WASHINGTON –The pandemic is on the docket.
With the United States about to enter its fifth month of the novel coronavirus outbreak and case numbers nearing two and a half million, lawsuits relating to COVID-19 are surging across the country, seeking relief for a broad number of claims, an analysis by the Hearst Television National Investigative Unit has found.
At the School for Creative Tots in Mason, Ohio, about a half hour northeast of Cincinnati, silence has replaced the normal cacophony of screaming children at play.
The private preschool shut down after the then-director of Ohio’s Department of Public Health, Amy Acton, ordered closures across the state as of March 24 to help control the spread of the virus.
"Today is the day that we have to batten down those hatches,” Acton said at a news conference hours before signing the order.
Now Acton is being sued by the preschool along with its insurance company, which the lawsuit says denied the school's claim for lost business. A spokesman for the insurance provider issued a one-line statement for this story, saying, “As this is an ongoing legal matter, West Bend Mutual Insurance is unable to provide any public comment.”
Repeated messages to the preschool, its owner, Emilie Parry, and her attorney over the past several weeks were not returned.
Coronavirus lawsuits near 3,000
The lawsuit by the School for Creative Tots is one of approximately 3,000 filed nationwide since the outbreak began, according to a private database maintained by the U.S. law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP.
There is at least one complaint in every state in the database, with the most lawsuits filed so far in New York, California, Florida, Texas and Illinois.
"I think it's more than just people getting restless,” Torsten Kracht, a partner at the firm, explained in an interview. “I think it's also businesses very worried about what the impact of closure would have on their particular business."
Insurance claims lead categories
The database, a portion of which is available for public access, also breaks down the complaints by category, revealing that insurance claims are the largest subject of COVID-related civil actions. Lawsuits on behalf of prisoners and detainees as well as civil rights complaints are neck-and-neck for the number two category. Labor and employment cases follow, then consumer cases, real property and education.
Based on the trends so far and the lack of success in broadly containing the outbreak nationwide which would enable a fully re-opened economy and sustained growth, Kracht anticipates the upward trend of case filings to continue.
"I think there's a lot more to come because we still don't have a vaccine in place and we still see rising rates in many states, as you know. So, I think there is additional litigation to come,” Kracht predicted.
Even with the growing numbers, the total COVID-related cases still only represent about one percent of all federal lawsuits filed each year.
Mark Albert is the chief national investigative correspondent for the Hearst Television National Investigative Unit, based in Washington D.C. April Chunko and Dave Manoucheri contributed to this report.
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