Green parking meter reads "expired."

How the Unpredictable Long-Term Effects of COVID-19 Infection Pose a Challenge That Tort Law Cannot Meet

By Jennifer S. Bard

The longer the pandemic continues, the more obvious it is how effective the sweeping federal and state laws shielding medical providers from malpractice associated with COVID-19 have been. Few cases have been brought, and so far there is no record of successful judgements or settlements.

Even without these statutes, proving negligence in COVID-related cases would be exceptionally difficult, given the ever-evolving virus and treatment options. Still today it would be hard to prove that any good faith attempt at care was unreasonable and that there was a causal link to greater harm — both necessary to demonstrate negligence.

But, at some time in the relatively near future, this will change. The declared public health emergency will end, and with it the federal and remaining state blanket liability protections. A standard of care will develop and issues involving the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19 will become the subject of tort litigation.

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Pile of envelopes with overdue utility bills on the floor.

The Unfurling Crisis of Unfunded Isolation, Testing, and Treatment of Infectious Disease in the US

By Steven W. Thrasher

For many politicians in the United States, the summer of 2022 was a time of trying not to think about the coronavirus pandemic—though, if they were concerned about the risk that they, their neighbors, and their constituents were facing, they should have been paying very close attention. By August, there were about 500 to 600 COVID deaths a day, accounting for more than a “9/11’s worth” every week, a level of death twice what it had been in the summer of 2021.

But for gay men in the United States, the summer of 2022 was a time of worrying about a whole new viral epidemic: monkeypox. The variant of the MPX orthopoxvirus circulating globally in 2022 has behaved very differently than it had in previous outbreak, acting as a sexually transmitted infection and moving almost exclusively through the bodies of gay men.

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SAINT LOUIS, MO. - August 2, 2021: A protestor holds a sign reading "Evictions Are Violence" at a protest held days after the federal eviction moratorium expired.

U.S. Eviction Policy is Harming Children: The Case for Sustainable Eviction Prevention to Promote Health Equity

By Emily A. Benfer

Without a nationwide commitment to sustainable eviction prevention, the United States will fail the rising number of renter households at risk of eviction. Worse still, the country will set millions of children on the path of long-term scarring and health inequity.

A staggering 14.8% of all children and 28.9% of children in families living below the poverty line experience an eviction by the time they are 15. For children, eviction functions as a major life event that has damaging effects long after they are forced to leave their home. It negatively affects emotional and physical well-being; increases the likelihood of emotional trauma, lead poisoning, and food insecurity; leads to academic decline and delays; and could increase all-cause mortality risk.

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Lawyer and client in courtroom.

Liability for COVID-19 Vaccine Harms: We Need to Do Better

By Dorit Reiss

COVID-19 vaccines are extremely safe, and serious harms are rare. But rare does not mean the risk is zero; thus, we need a way to determine which people have plausible claims of harm from the vaccines, and we must then compensate them quickly and generously. However, the regular torts system is not a good option for adjudicating these claims. Fortunately, we already have a better system — no-fault compensation — available to address the problem.

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Airplane taking off from the airport.

In-Flight COVID Transmission: Surveying the Liability Landscape

By Christopher Robertson

Do airlines have legal obligations to manage the risk of in-flight infections?

In the pre-COVID era, I answered this question affirmatively. In a 2016 paper, I reviewed the scientific literature showing that airline travel is a key vector for spreading infectious disease, both because airports and airplanes tend to mix people in such close quarters that they are likely to infect each other, and because it efficiently distributes infected people around the world to then infect more people.

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Bill of Health - Gavel on mask during pandemic, class action lawsuits during pandemic

Relying on the Unreliable? COVID-19 Claims Can’t Proceed Without a Proper Standard of Care

By Michelle Richards

In the United States, the imposition of tort liability for the transmission of an infectious disease goes back more than a century. It is no surprise, therefore, that similar claims have been filed for damages arising from the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

However, in order for these claims to be adjudicated fairly, they must be judged against a standard of care. A standard of care provides a benchmark for the level of caution a reasonable party would take in particular circumstances. If the standard of care is not met, liability may be imposed.

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Empty classroom.

Tort Liability for Faculty Who Fail to Tell the Class About COVID Cases in Their Midst

By Heidi Li Feldman

The more individuals must rely on their own judgment and effort to protect themselves from disease, the more they need information regarding the possibility of exposure to the cause of the disease.

This simple proposition, combined with changes in how governments and institutions are approaching COVID, means that university faculty should rethink their role in keeping their students informed about COVID cases among class members. To satisfy their legal obligations to protect students from harm, faculty must consider whether safeguarding their students from incurring COVID in their classrooms necessitates sharing such information. Fulfilling their legal duties to students may even require faculty to disregard administrative prohibitions against disseminating news of COVID cases in the class.

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A man holds a shield in his hand.

The Pathology (and Politics) of Liability Shields

By Nicolas Terry

Over one million Americans have died from COVID-19, while 20 percent of those who survive may develop post-COVID conditions. With weak safety net policies and high health care costs it would hardly be surprising if our fellow citizens tried to shift some of their COVID costs to arguably responsible defendants.

For example, lawsuits could have emerged against either businesses (or their employees) alleging negligent failure to mitigate (e.g., vaccinate, mask, or even implement hygiene theater policies), or against health care providers for failures in the professional standard of care (e.g., failure to amass/provide adequate numbers of personal protective equipment or ventilators).

However, the predicted litigation explosion has not materialized. In its stead (and without any apparent causal valence) we have experienced a proliferation of liability shield (aka limited immunity) laws.

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