Coronavirus or the COVID-19 virus is all over the news lately. Events have been canceled, and even healthy people (not just people who are at-risk) have been asked to work hard to avoid the spread of the virus.
In the instance of flu, high-risk individuals have a method of proactive protection in the event of exposure. A flu shot can preclude sickness or decrease its adverse effects for most people if they happen to be exposed to the flu. Therefore, although there is never a desire to spread the flu, the most vulnerable populations among us have some ability to protect themselves, and medical professionals are prepared to treat the flu.
In contrast, there is not yet a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus. Thus, people who are vulnerable to complications from the virus are essentially “sitting ducks” who have no proven tools to either prevent acquisition of the virus (if exposed to it) or treat/overcome the virus if infected.
This is why even healthy people are being precluded from joining groups at large events. Every attendee at a large event could be healthy and appear healthy for several days after being exposed to and becoming a carrier of the virus. While appearing healthy after the event, those attendees could be unknowingly carrying the virus and could transmit the virus to people vulnerable to the virus’s fatal implications.
Obviously, there is no specific law regarding liability for transmission of this virus in particular. However, there are laws in Ohio that preclude people from transmitting dangerous, contagious diseases. It is likely that a court of law will someday classify this virus as a dangerous, contagious disease.
As a result, if someone knows or should know that they have the virus, that person is legally required to “take reasonable measures to prevent exposing himself” or herself to other people, except for medical professionals when seeking care.
Although this law puts a duty to avoid exposing other people to the virus, the law has been narrowly interpreted so that there is not typically liability if the person who was exposed does not ultimately contract the virus.
Simply put, if someone who knows that he or she has the virus is not reasonably careful in avoiding contact with other people, and he or she ultimately infects another person with the illness, he or she has a legal liability to the person that is infected. The amount of liability will vary based upon the severity of the exposed person’s injury. Obviously, if the exposed person dies, the damages would be larger than if the exposed person simply faces discomfort for several days.
Further, if someone should know that he or she has the virus, that person is considered to legally know that he or she has the virus. Thus, if someone exhibits the unique symptoms of the virus and avoids testing (intentionally or not), that person is considered to know that he or she has the virus. Therefore, that person would have the legal duty to avoid coming in contact with other people.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.