Widow Files COVID-19 Lawsuit Under The Jones Act
The widow of a former sea captain who succumbed to the coronavirus settled a lawsuit against the ship’s operator under The Jones Act. It is among the first of its kind to reach a settlement. There is a decided lack of clarity when it comes to coronavirus litigation after several states passed legislation shielding companies from immunity. Today, those who want to file a lawsuit after contracting the coronavirus must need to show that the responsible company was “grossly” negligent which is among the highest standards of proof in civil cases.
This lawsuit took place in Louisiana. The law remains unclear as to whether or not a shipowner or operator can be held liable for coronavirus-related lawsuits. The extent to which a shipowner can be held liable, however, is still unclear.
The widow alleged that her husband’s employer negligently exposed her husband to the coronavirus who later died of the disease. She filed a wrongful death lawsuit under The Jones Act alleging that the employer was responsible after he contracted the virus at an offshore location. It is believed that the husband caught the virus from another vessel’s captain.
Essentially, The Jones Act requires that a shipowner, company, or operator provide all aboard the vessel with a safe working environment. By the time the infected captain had contact with the deceased, the City of New Orleans had already been declared a “hot spot” for virus cases and public gatherings were being shut down. In other words, the ship’s operator should have known that there was a chance he could contract the virus and failed to take any safety measures to prevent that.
Essentially, the company is liable for failing to take any steps to prevent transmission of the disease. Had they, it would be unclear that the lawsuit would have been successful under COVID liability shields.
This lawsuit is believed to be among the first lawsuits filed under maritime law relating to a pandemic. Since the situation is novel, it is complex and subsequent rulings may not go the way of the plaintiff. Already, Florida has passed legislation to shield businesses from liability, even in the case of nursing homes who contributed more to the death toll than all other industries combined.
To prove gross negligence in a coronavirus lawsuit, the plaintiff has the burden of showing that the company they are suing failed to act in accord with established health recommendations. If a company makes a good-faith effort to ensure their premises are safe, then they are shielded from liability.
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