Local personal injury attorneys starting to get coronavirus litigation questions

While facing a sharp drop in new car wreck cases, Baton Rouge personal injury attorneys are beginning to field a smattering of inquiries about coronavirus-related litigation. 

While they aren’t expecting what some in the U.S. predict will be an onslaught of coronavirus legal cases in the coming months, they do expect a substantial number of employees exposed to the virus to file suits against their employers for failing to install proper precautions in the workplace, along with a backlog of contractual disputes between businesses and clients as well as landlords and tenants.

“Unfortunately, I see businesses failing, so contracts won’t be fulfilled, and somebody is going to sue somebody else over it,” says local attorney Darrel Papillion. “There will be litigation over people not doing what somebody expected them to do, or not paying bills they would otherwise be expected to pay, and some may turn to the governor’s order as a reason why they couldn’t perform.

In the next year, Papillion expects lawsuits tied to bankruptcy, business litigation and labor and employment—and, potentially, family law—to flood the courts. However, for the most part, he doesn’t believe COVID-19 will trigger the “tremendous amount of litigation” that ensued after Hurricane Katrina or the BP oil spill, saying the pandemic is something the world hasn’t experienced in over 100 years. 

That’s not to say there hasn’t been buzz about people filing claims against PPE manufacturers, or against nursing homes for neglecting the safety of their deceased loved ones. What it does mean, though, is that many cases may not be successful, which could make personal injury attorneys—who generally work on contingency fees—more reluctant to take on the cases.

Gordon McKernan, who has 11 firms throughout Louisiana, says the cases also present something of a moral—and public relations—dilemma, noting his firm has received phone calls from family members of nursing home residents who died from the virus, inquiring about negligence and wrongful death claims.

“We wish them well, but right now, I’m not planning on taking on those cases. It’s not the right time when the front-line workers are doing all they can,” McKernan says. “Three months from now, if a business isn’t taking the proper steps to protect its employees, we may take a look, but now I don’t see a point where we would.”

Business owners have also asked McKernan to look over their business interruption policies, but McKernan says most insurance policies have exclusions for those types of claims, making the cases much more difficult to win and therefore making his firm less inclined to pick them up.

On the other hand, Chad Dudley of Dudley DeBosier Injury Lawyers says his attorneys haven’t yet received many, if any, coronavirus-related inquiries—which, coupled with the fact that fewer car crashes are occurring, he considers to be a good thing, even if it means business is slower.

Still, he’s monitoring some other suits, such as one a Walmart employee filed against the company after the worker was exposed to coronavirus on the job, and another filed in New Orleans by a parking garage company pursuing a “force majeure” claim.

“If businesses are being reckless and putting their employees at risk by not implementing any best practices, there may be some claims there that we would handle, but it’s just too early to tell,” Dudley says. “For now, we’re focusing on the clients we currently represent.”

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