The Biden administration has a growing problem on its hands: essential workers and their families are beginning to sue in a tide of personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. Many essential workers are aggravated that their health — and sometimes even their lives — were put on the line just so they could make less than the millions of people who lost their jobs due to coronavirus were making on unemployment.
A United States appeals court will now decide if wrongful death lawsuits belong in state or federal court.
According to Reuters, the Biden administration argued to the appeals court — alongside 19 states — that the government had nothing to do with Tyson Foods Inc’s decisions to keep its plants open during the pandemic. Therefore, the wrongful death cases should be heard in state court.
The U.S. Department of Justice and many left-leaning attorneys agree: the appeals court should uphold the previous ruling that said the suits belonged in federal court based on the function Tyson provides.
DOJ lawyers wrote, “Although the pandemic brought the importance of these functions into the public consciousness, federal officials’ acknowledgement of their importance and support for their continuance did not serve to federalize these fundamentally private actions.”
The relevant law states that state-law claims can be bounced to a federal court only when defendants were receiving specific direction from federal officials. A brief from the federal government seems to suggest that Tyson only kept its plants open at their direction.
Cases like these are already notoriously difficult to prove. The plaintiffs allege that the deceased caught coronavirus at work, but how do they prove it beyond any doubt? A previous COVID-19 wrongful death lawsuit in Texas shows us the arguments that are likely to be made.
In the Texas lawsuit Tyson Foods representatives said that allowing the case to move forward would “open the floodgates to potentially thousands of speculative claims.”
Tyson said in a motion to dismiss: “That Mr. Chavez is one of the many thousands of Americans who have died of complications related to COVID-19 is a tragedy. But the complaint brought by his estate fails to adequately plead a plausible claim against Tyson.”
It continued, “To establish causation, Plaintiffs must plead — and ultimately prove — that Mr. Chavez [an employee at Tyson Foods’ Center plant in Shelby County, Texas, who died on April 17] contracted COVID-19 from his work rather than elsewhere, and then, that he contracted COVID-19 due to Tyson’s alleged negligence rather than some other cause.”
And therein lies the rub. The plaintiffs need to make the judge believe that there is little cause to doubt the truth that they or their deceased loved ones came down with the disease because they caught coronavirus while working. Even authorities have had difficulty tracing the spread of the virus from one person to the next. How are we supposed to do it in court? Sadly, it isn’t enough to prove that an employer simply didn’t take the necessary precautions to protect employees — although that’s a start.