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UPDATED: COVID-19 Litigation Trends UPDATED: COVID-19 Litigation Trends

UPDATED: COVID-19 Litigation Trends

As COVID-19 spreads and continues to cause business and operational disruptions, market chaos, and individual consumer panic, it is no surprise that COVID-19-related litigation has already been filed. Litigation involving a variety of COVID-19-related issues has already grabbed national headlines. Additionally, the threat of future litigation looms over global businesses and governments as the initial shock and impact lifts, and businesses grapple to deal with the fall out from the events of the past weeks and months and look to the future. This alert addresses current litigation trends related to COVID-19.

Suspending statutes of limitation and other deadlines. On March 23, 2020, the Indiana Supreme Court issued an order tolling state statutes of limitation and laws, rules, and procedures that set time limits in trial proceedings and appellate matters, through April 6, 2020 (or further order of the Court). State trial courts remain open and retain discretion to procede with any matter they deem essential or urgent, though most Courts have continued any substantive hearings or trials. Indiana is not alone. Georgia, New York, and California courts have issued similar orders. In particular, on March 17, 2020, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued a statewide judicial emergency, suspending all filing deadlines (including statutes of limitations) in the Supreme Court through April 13, 2020, but encouraged parties to continue to file briefs when practical. On March 20, 2020, the state of New York suspended time limits for the commencement, filing, or service of any legal action, notice, motion, or other process or proceeding through April 19, 2020. Also on March 20, 2020, the Supreme Court of California adopted expanded e-filing rules for litigants and extended deadlines for all state Supreme Court proceedings for an additional 30 days. As COVID-19 continues to spread, we will likely see other states following suit.

COVID-19 is impacting pretrial proceedings and otherwise delaying cases. For instance, in one lawsuit involving a Hong Kong entity, a party requested an order requiring certain depositions to take place in the United States, rather than in Hong Kong. The magistrate judge denied the request, stating it was not necessarily safer to travel to either place. The party disagreed and is fighting the order on the basis there are peculiar circumstances that favor one location over another and its attorneys should not have to choose between risking their health and proper representation. See Willis Electric Co. Ltd. v. Polygroup Trading Ltd. et al., Case. No. 0:15-cv-03443 (D. Minn.). In addition, trials are being delayed or continued. Further, some courts are issuing orders restricting who is permitted to enter the courthouse. Others have issued orders automatically permitting remote appearances for non-evidentiary hearings or conferences and orders that illness or exposure to illness amounts to “good cause” for a continuance request. If you are going to court, be sure to check the court’s website for any health-related restrictions.

Businesses are facing claims they failed to take adequate steps to protect people. Princess Cruise Lines Ltd. is facing multiple lawsuits over its response to COVID-19. In one case, a couple who traveled on the Grand Princess cruise ship, which was held at bay for four days before docking in California, has sued Princess, alleging negligence and gross negligence based on the company’s failure to adequately warn them about potential exposure to the coronavirus before they boarded or after they were on board the cruise ship. See Weissberger et al. v. Princess Cruise Lines Ltd., Case No. 2:20-cv-02267 (C.D. Cal.). News of this lawsuit has led to similar cases against Princess with the same allegations. Cases against other cruise lines and other businesses are likely.

Businesses should be wary of their advertising and potential deceptive trade practices claims. A proposed class action now pending in California alleges that Germ-X, a company that makes hand sanitizer, has falsely claimed its product can fight the coronavirus. According to the lawsuit, consumers purchased hand sanitizer based on the company’s alleged lies. See Geraldine David et al. v. Vi-Jon Inc., Case No. 3:20-cv-00424 (S.D. Cal.). The maker of Purell, Gojo Industries, Inc., is facing a similar suit in New York related to the company’s claims regarding the Ebola virus. See Magdiela Gonzalez et al. v. Gojo Industries, Inc., Case No. 1:20-cv-00888 (S.D.N.Y.).

Consumer protection and antitrust anxieties are growing in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Although the United States has no federal statute prohibiting price-gouging, some state and local statutes do restrict price-gouging. As certain supplies (such as hand sanitizer and face masks) have become scarce in recent weeks, concerns of price-gouging have surfaced. See our full alert on price gouging here.
Evictions Paused. On March 18, 2020, President Trump announced a suspension of evictions and foreclosures for homeowners who have mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration, which is a Department of Housing and Urban Development agency, or backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Meanwhile, cities (and some states) across the country are enacting a temporary moratorium on residential and commercial evictions to protect those suffering financial hardship. The extent of these moratoriums varies; some moratoriums apply only for those who face financial hardship based on COVID-19. See our alert on Moratoria on Residential Foreclosures and Evictions here.

If you or your business is facing any COVID-19-related litigation issue, Ice Miller attorneys stand ready to assist. Contact Christina FugateAudrey Howard or Drew Miroff for more information.

This publication is intended for general information purposes only and does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice. The reader should consult with legal counsel to determine how laws or decisions discussed herein apply to the reader’s specific circumstances.
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