The California State Supreme Court will take up a case to decide whether an employer can be sued for liability when a worker contracts COVID-19 at work and then passes it on to a family member.
The 9th U.S. District Court of Appeal asked that state’s high court clarify if California’s Workers’ Compensation Act bars a claim against an employer by a spouse who became seriously ill after contracting COVID-19 from her husband, who had caught it at work.
The State Supreme Court was also asked to clarify whether California law requires that employers owe a duty to the households of their employees to exercise ordinary care to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
These types of “take-home” COVID lawsuits have been growing in number and have put employers on edge as there seems to be a limitless tail of liability for them to contend with.
The lawsuits typically allege that employers’ negligence in protecting workers against the coronavirus led to employees getting sick and infecting others in their household. Often in these cases, someone in the family either died from COVID-19 or was hospitalized with severe symptoms and/or suffered from “long COVID” as a result.
With the State Supreme Court deciding to take on these questions, it will be tackling a legal quandary that business groups have said could expose employers to not only lawsuits by workers’ friends and family, but also virtually anyone infected by that group of people.
The court’s opinion could have a profound effect on how these types of cases are handled in the future.
The case in question
The case in the spotlight concerns Corby Kuciemba, who says she became critically ill after contracting COVID-19 from her husband, who had been exposed to the coronavirus on the job at Victory Woodworks Inc in San Francisco. A federal judge threw out her case last year, saying that her claims were covered by workers’ compensation and that she had no other remedy.
She appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court. It’s not unusual for federal courts to ask for guidance from a state Supreme Court when deciding cases revolving around state laws.
The California Supreme Court will decide the legal issues concerning the two questions, leaving the 9th Circuit to apply its ruling to Kuciemba’s case.