May 11, 2020

College students are demanding tuition money and consumers want their cash back from concert ticket vendors, gyms and airlines.

Businesses allege insurance companies are trying to sidestep their coverage obligations and some people say they’re being deprived of stimulus checks.

And that’s only the beginning.

Major catastrophes and downturns can unleash a torrent of lawsuits, and the coronavirus pandemic is no exception. At least 917 federal and state lawsuits have been filed in relation to the pandemic, according to a database run by Hunton Andrews Kurth, an international law firm.

. . . 

Disasters and downturns often spur litigation — but the pandemic is different

The 9/11 attacks spurred cases over issues like health coverage for first responders at Ground Zero and the real estate developer’s insurance policies. A victim’s compensation fund paid out more than $7 billion to survivors and families that agreed not to sue airlines.

The Great Recession triggered lawsuits against major financial institutions that allegedly misled investors and regulators. It also set off a wave of bankruptcies and foreclosures.

But the COVID-19 pandemic is different for the breadth and scale of legal issues, observers say.

. . . 

In employment law alone, “what we are confronting now is really unprecedented in scale, complexity and how heavily it depends on science,” said Joseph Sellers, a partner at the law firm Cohen Milstein who represents plaintiffs in civil rights and employment class actions.

. . .

When many businesses reopen offices or re-start services, they’ll have to decide if they can return with the staff they previously had, or come back with a smaller head count. If those revised staff decisions leave out groups of workers who happen to be older or happen to have the same race or gender, that could open up a legal fight.

“Anything that may have a broad, sweeping impact on a particular group of people raises my interest,” said Shaylyn Cochran, a partner at Cohen Milstein representing workers.

Cochran hasn’t yet filed a case related to the outbreak. She said she proceeds carefully and says employees do too. “In this day and age, when people are uncertain, I don’t think people are waking up and thinking ‘let me see how I can sue my employer?’”

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