News reports show that COVID-19 deaths among nursing home patients and staff account for 40% of U.S. deaths from the virus. Due to the high amount of deaths among nursing homes and in other industries, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the U.S. court system, both federal and state. Most of the lawsuits are individual claimants, but a handful of class action cases are making their way through the courts.
The following takes a look at three wrongful death class actions that cross several industries.
New Jersey Nursing Home Class Action
On September 8, 2020, a lead plaintiff in New Jersey filed a wrongful death class action in Sussex County Superior Court related to nursing home violations during COVID-19. The case is Roberts v Andover Subacute Rehabilitation Center, et al. The administrator of the Roberts estate brought the case against two New Jersey nursing home facilities and the owner/operators for failing to take preventive infection measures against the COVID-19 virus. Their failure to protect led to the loss of 94 lives in the nursing homes.
Over the years, prior to COVID-19, the Andover facilities have been negatively assessed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), giving the facilities the second-worst rating on the CMS rating system. One of the citations was for failure to meet the regulatory and sanitation standards to prevent the spread of communicable diseases among the patients.
The owner/operators advertised the facilities as high-quality and compliant with regulations. The plaintiff maintains that the residents and their families relied on those representations to their detriment. The lawsuit also claims the nursing homes apprised none of the relatives of the 17 dead patients until police found the bodies. Family members also claimed they received no updates about their family-residents for weeks. After the most recent investigation of violations, the nursing home faces $220,000 in fines.
The lawsuit further alleges violations of state and federal nursing home laws, as well as violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. The class action plaintiffs demand equitable and injunctive relief, attorney fees and expenses, pre-and post-judgment interest, consequential and compensatory damages, punitive and treble damages, and/or statutory damages where appropriate. Plaintiffs also demand a jury trial. Defendants removed the case to federal court where it was remanded back to state court on August 12, 2020. As of September 9, 2020, the plaintiff's bar continued to seek plaintiffs.
Princess Cruises Class Action
On June 4, 2020, lead plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit, Duc Chung v. Carnival, representing 2,800 passengers exposed to COVID-19 on the Grand Princess Cruise from San Francisco to Mexico during February 11-21, 2020. The plaintiffs claim that at least 100 passengers tested positive for COVID-19, of which two died after disembarking. Carnival Cruise Lines stands linked to 1,500 positive COVID-19 cases and 40 deaths from the virus. The defendants assert that Carnival had prior knowledge of 10 COVID-19 cases on its Asian cruise which increased to 700 cases and 14 deaths. Yet, boarding the Grand Princess Cruise, the defendants did not conduct medical screening for passengers. As passengers on the Grand Princess Cruise began to fall ill, the other passengers were not warned about the situation.
The plaintiffs present claims for negligence, gross negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and injunctive as well as compensatory damages. As of July 31, 2020, the court granted the defendant's motion for leave to file extended pages.
New York ADA/RA Class Action
On May 4, 2020, lead plaintiffs filed a class action in the Eastern District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Schoengood v. Hofgur, LLC. Hofgur operates the Queens Adult Care Center (QACC) and the Genfen Senior Care Group for disabled residents in need of long-term care and assistance with the activities of daily living (ADLs). The plaintiffs are approximately 350 elderly or dependent residents who live at QACC because they are old, sick, or have mental health illnesses. They are at significant risk to infectious diseases both to themselves and to others at the facility. Defendants refused to share information with them regarding the pandemic's effect on the residents. Fourteen had already died from the virus as of the time of filing.
The plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment and equitable relief under Title III of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 for noncompliance with regulatory guidance for long-term care facilities with respect to COVID-19. The plaintiffs also claim that the defendants violated the Rehabilitation Act 1973 (RA) for programs receiving federal aid. The plaintiffs also seek a Special Master to supervise the defendants' corrective actions under the ADA.
In addition to injunctive and equitable relief for violations of the ADA and RA, as well as the appointment of a Special Master under applicable law, plaintiffs seek attorneys fees, court costs, and litigation expenses. As of October 7, 2020, the court entertained a motion to extend the time to file documents.
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