Trials & Litigation

Nearly 300 federal suits stem from pandemic; 101 'business interruption' cases filed; what's next?

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Nearly 300 federal lawsuits filed in the months of March and April stem from the COVID-19 pandemic, a number that is likely to continue to expand.

Lex Machina found 395 new lawsuits using COVID-19 related terms over the two-month period. Among those suits, 287 stemmed from the COVID-19 crisis, the company reported.

Contracts, insurance and employment were the practice areas with the largest number of cases stemming from the pandemic.

The results were based on a keyword search for the terms “covid” or “coronavirus” or “pandemic” in the litigation areas monitored by Lex Machina.

Despite the growing number of COVID-19 mentions, the number of federal case filings is slightly down in April 2020, compared to the previous year, according to new Lex Machina data cited by Law360. The data excludes two massive product liability multidistrict litigation matters.

A different tracker of federal and state cases found that, as of May 28, more than 2,300 cases had been filed over the novel coronavirus. The numbers were compiled by Hunton Andrews Kurth.

Despite the decline in cases noted by Lex Machina, some practice areas increased in April, including employment and insurance law. Both are likely to become COVID-19 battlegrounds in the months ahead.

Already, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has received notice of 101 federal lawsuits seeking insurance coverage for “business interruption” losses caused by the virus, the Claims Journal reported in a May 21 story. Restaurants are among the plaintiffs.

The multidistrict panel received notice because of a petition filed by plaintiffs in Philadelphia and Chicago seeking one judge to preside in all federal business interruption suits.

Plaintiffs lawyers expect that thousands of suits will eventually be filed seeking business interruption coverage, according to the Claims Journal.

And that’s not the only likely hot area of litigation, according to an employment law alert by Nixon Peabody.

“Employers need to prepare now for expected waves of COVID-19 related class action lawsuits and other employment claims,” the law firm says.

Among the areas of expected litigation are suits for injuries and wrongful death, discrimination, employment liability insurance, privacy violations and retaliation.

Elena Baca, global chair of the Paul Hastings employment law department, thinks an upcoming wave of coronavirus litigation will include whistleblower complaints, Bloomberg Law reports.

“We’ll see a whole new raft of creativity, where what would be a considered a generic complaint is then tied into some sort of safety issue and reconstructed as a whistleblower claim,” Baca told Bloomberg Law.

The pandemic is also having an effect on the type of claims being filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in New York and New England, said EEOC New York Deputy Director Judy Keenan on Wednesday.

Charges related to COVID-19 allege a failure to accommodate disabilities, Keenan said. Law360 had coverage.

Workers with conditions that predispose them to COVID-19 complications have the right to request an accommodation if it isn’t an undue hardship for the business, Keenan and other speakers said. On the other hand, workers who aren’t recalled to the job because of concern for their health may also have a disability bias claim.

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