Employees sue companies in public nuisance lawsuits
COVID-19, workplace protections, and public nuisance lawsuits
The coronavirus pandemic has drawn attention to issues related to workplace safety and employee protections.
This week, the Pennsylvania Department of Health issues a new order requiring hospitals to better protect healthcare workers from the coronavirus. Hospitals will be required to provide respirators to staff involved in direct care of COVID-19 patients, replace soiled or damaged respirators on request, require universal masking, and notify staff members who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. They must also provide testing for their workers. These changes come after months during which nurses and other healthcare workers complained of inadequate protections, rationing PPE, and other safety concerns.
Workers suing McDonalds, Amazon test public nuisance theory in workplace safety lawsuits
Employees at McDonalds and Amazon seeking better workplace conditions have taken legal action against their employers. These The lawsuits against McDonalds and Amazon allege that these major companies failed to enact adequate safety measures and that that failure created a threat to public health.
What is a public nuisance lawsuit?
Public nuisance claims have been used in litigation addressing some threat to society, such as environmental pollution or the opioid crisis. Public nuisance is being invoked here because the plaintiffs allege that by not providing adequate virus protections to their employees, these companies increased the likelihood that their employees would contract – and spread – COVID-19.
Workers’ Compensation and Public Nuisance Claims
The workers’ compensation system may be a hurdle to these public nuisance claims. Typically, workers who become injured or ill on the job cannot sue their employer for damages. Instead, workers’ compensation exists to cover employees’ medical treatment and lost wages without having to file a lawsuit. This is their only path to recourse; any other claim would be blocked by the “exclusive remedy” rule. However, these public nuisance claims are unique because the plaintiffs are not seeking monetary compensation for themselves; rather, these lawsuits seek an injunction that would force companies to change their practices and eliminate the public nuisance. For that reason, these claims may succeed.
Unprecedented legal action in unprecedented times
Ultimately, there is very little if any legal precedent for a public nuisance claim brought by employees seeking an injunction and not compensatory damages. So, it is difficult to know whether these cases will prevail. As the pandemic has landed us in unprecedented times, we’re seeing legal cases involving new issues and circumstances. What happens in these cases will be extremely interesting, and will likely have an impact on similar cases in the future. For any questions, please contact our personal injury lawyers.
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