California’s highest court asked to assess employer liability for COVID infections

  • Federal appeals court asks state court for guidance on new issue
  • Trade groups say companies could face endless liability

(Reuters) – California’s top state court could soon decide whether companies can be sued when employees contract COVID-19 at work and pass it on to loved ones, after a federal appeals court asked Thursday its opinion on the new issue.

A panel of three judges from the 9th Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals certified questions to the Supreme Court of California in a case brought by Corby Kuciemba, who says she fell seriously ill with COVID-19 after that her husband was exposed to the virus at his job with Victory Woodworks Inc.

Trade groups have said allowing employers to be held liable for so-called ‘take-home’ COVID infections will result in lawsuits not just from family and friends of workers, but anyone infected in that circle. of people. Companies like Amazon.com Inc, Walmart Inc, McDonald’s Corp and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd have faced similar claims.

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Kuciemba’s attorney, Martin Zurada of Venardi Zurada, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither do the lawyers from Hinshaw & Culbertson who represent Victory.

The 9th Circuit said the key questions in Kuciemba’s case — whether the state’s workers’ compensation system covers COVID infections of employees’ spouses and whether employers have a general legal duty to prevent the spread of COVID – were never addressed by the California Supreme Court. , so it should have the ability to do so.

Last week, the California Supreme Court declined to take up the issue of workers’ compensation in a separate case involving a See’s Candies Inc employee whose husband died after giving her COVID-19.

A state appeals court, in the first such decision, had ruled that COVID infections in the home are not covered by workers’ compensation because they are not the result of a workplace injury. ‘an employee.

But in the 9th Circuit case, a California federal judge ruled that Kuciemba’s claims were covered by workers’ compensation and that she could not sue.

The 9th Circuit panel includes Circuit Judges John Wallace, Margaret McKeown and Sidney Thomas.

The case is Kuciemba v. Victory Woodworks Inc, 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-15963.

For Kuciemba: Martin Zurada of Venardi Zurada

For the win: William Bogdan of Hinshaw & Culbertson

Read more:

9th Circ signals may need help with ‘takeaway’ COVID liability issue

See’s Candies faces worker’s COVID lawsuit after California high court rejects appeal

Employer faces worker’s lawsuit over husband’s COVID death – California court

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Daniel Wiessner

Thomson Reuters

Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy development. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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