As COVID-19 cases surge in the United States, businesses say they fear a California court ruling has increased the likelihood that companies will be sued for infections, even by people who are not employees or customers.
The Dec. 21 ruling allowed a COVID-19-related wrongful death lawsuit to proceed against See’s Candies Inc, owned by Berkshire Hathaway, by the family of Arturo Ek of Los Angeles who died in April 2020 at 72 from COVID-19.
See’s employed his wife, Matilde Ek, who said she was infected by the coronavirus while working inches apart from sick coworkers, and then her husband caught it from her at home.
The ruling is the first by an appeals court to allow a novel “take-home” COVID-19 lawsuit, which seek damages from a business over allegations of violating safety protocols and setting off a chain of infections beyond the company’s premises.
See’s, which did not respond to a request for comment, could appeal to California’s supreme court.
The See’s ruling is only binding in California, but it may offer guidance to judges in other states, legal experts said.
Business groups warned in court papers filed before the See’s decision that such a ruling could prompt lawsuits by an infected employee’s family and friends, and anyone infected by that circle of people.
The groups called it a “never-ending chain” of liability.
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