COVID-19 Reading List

October 30, 2020

Jonathan D. Urick, U.S. Chamber Litigation Center

Some highlights of the past week’s reporting and commentary on COVID-19 litigation include: overall litigation trends and strategies for businesses to mitigate legal risk, new securities claims, the first plaintiff win in a business-interruption insurance case, and failed challenges to mask and social-distancing requirements.

Overall Litigation Trends and Risk Mitigation

On BusinessWest (a Massachusetts publication), labor and employment attorney Amy Royal comprehensively examines and analyzes overall coronavirus-litigation trends.  “The most common types of cases that have emerged,” Royal explains, “involve health and safety violations, discrimination, and leaves of absence from work. In understanding the trends of lawsuits that have already been filed, businesses can better prepare by assessing risk and perhaps mitigate their exposure to liability in the process.”  So what can businesses do to mitigate their litigation risk?  “Two words” sum up her advice: “comprehensive planning.”

New Securities Lawsuit Against Cruise Line

Law360 reports that Royal Caribbean Cruises “was hit with another suit in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic Tuesday, as a proposed class of investors alleged the company deceived them with a series of false or misleading statements about its bookings and safety protocols, causing stock drops.”

Restaurateurs Prevail in Business-Interruption Insurance Lawsuit

The News & Observer (a Raleigh, NC publication) reports that two Durham restaurant owners have prevailed in a coverage lawsuit filed in state court against their business-interruption insurer.  This decision “could have implications throughout the nation’s struggling hospitality industry.”  Durham Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson held that the restaurateurs’ insurance policies cover their business losses from COVID-19, “a figure expected to be significant.”  According to the University of Pennsylvania, which tracks coronavirus business-interruption insurance litigation, these plaintiffs “are the first owners to win out of more than 1,200 cases.”  While over a dozen such suits have been dismissed, the vast majority remain pending.  The defendant insurer plans to appeal.  The Insurance Journal also covered the decision.

Preliminary Injunction Denied in ADA Challenge to Grocery-Store Mask Requirement

Reuters reports that Pittsburgh federal judge Nora Barry Fischer has denied a grocery-store customer’s motion for preliminary injunction in his Americans with Disabilities Act challenge to the chain’s mask requirement.  The plaintiff claims that the grocery store’s no-exceptions Pennsylvania policy on face coverings discriminates against people whose disabilities prevent them from wearing masks.  Judge Fischer’s denial was “quite fact specific,” however, holding only that the plaintiff “hadn’t offered sufficient evidence that he has a disability that precludes him from wearing a mask or a face shield,” and that the store’s mandatory policy on face coverings “was a reasonable interpretation of the state’s health orders.”

New York Federal Judge Rejects Challenge to Social-Distancing Requirements

Finally, according to Legal Newsline, Buffalo, NY, federal judge William Skretney held that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s social-distancing requirements are lawful, rejecting a challenge brought by bars and restaurants.  Judge Skretney reasoned that “it is for the State to determine and implement, with wide latitude, such emergency measures as it deems reasonably necessary to protect the public welfare.”