Get the latest in print & creative arts business updates, trends, and inspiration.

State Supreme Court Leans Towards Ruling Against ‘Take-Home’ COVID Plaintiff

One of the lingering threats to employers that grew out of the pandemic has been COVID-19 “take-home” lawsuits over cases when workers who contracted the disease at work spread it to members of their households.

But at a hearing in a landmark case, judges on California’s Supreme Court during oral arguments said they were concerned that allowing the case to proceed could unleash “an avalanche of litigation.”

Employers have been watching them closely for that very reason, and are hoping the judges’ remarks are a sign of how they may come down in the case. Whichever way the court rules, its decision could impact similar cases across the country, not only in the Golden State.

The case in question

The case of Corby Kuciemba, et al. vs. Victory Woodworks, Inc. concerns whether the employer should be held liable for negligence by the wife of an employee who says she became seriously ill in 2020 after she contracted COVID-19 from her husband who’d caught it at work.

Kuciemba argued that the employer should be held liable because it was foreseeable that an infected employee would bring the virus home, endangering members of their household. 

The defendant employer moved for summary judgment to dismiss, arguing it had no enforceable legal duty to protect against off-premises transmission of diseases like COVID-19.  

The federal court hearing the case sided with the employer, and the plaintiff appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Ninth Circuit, however, asked the California Supreme Court last year to determine if employers do have such a duty under state law.

It should be noted that local and state courts have not approved similar motions for summary judgment in similar take-home COVID-19 cases and have instead allowed them to proceed.

What it means for employers

While the judges in the case may have hinted at how they will rule when expressing concerns about an explosion of similar cases, they have yet to issue a final ruling.

And while we are no longer in a pandemic, if the court were to rule that employers have a duty to protect non-employees from transmission, legal watchers say that it could spur people sickened in the early days of the pandemic to file suit.

It would also apply to cases that are currently pending and any new lawsuits that can still be filed under the two-year statute of limitations for negligence cases.

Robert Dunn, a lawyer for the US Chamber of Commerce, told the court during oral arguments that if this case were allowed to proceed, it could apply more broadly to other contagious diseases, including the flu, from which thousands of Americans die every year.

When the California Supreme Court renders its decision, we will provide you with an update.

To get relevant news related to your print or agency business directly to your inbox, sign up for our eNewsletter by emailing Shannon Wolford, VMA Director of Membership and Sales at shannon@visualmediaalliance.org.

Sign Up to Start Receiving Chronicles

Contact me for the next session

Contact me about the next Print 101 class


Get a Free eBook on using Ancilliary Benefits to Retain Employees