Offices in Ottawa and Perth
(613) 722-1500

CONTACT US (613) 722-1500

Is there Personal Liability for Infecting Someone with Coronavirus?

Is there Personal Liability for Infecting Someone with Coronavirus?

By:

Posted April 3, 2020

As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads across Canada, new legal questions about this lethal illness are going to arise. For example, what happens if a person knows that they have COVID-19 and fails to take the necessary precautions, with the result that they spread the infection and infect others? Can they be sued by the people they infect?

The most likely legal cause of action in these circumstances would be negligence. The four requirements to establish negligence are:

1. A duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff;

2. A breach of that duty;

3. Damages (illness) experienced by the plaintiff; and

4. Causation of those damages by the defendant.

The breach of duty requirement is often most difficult to establish in a negligence claim. However, that element would appear to be obvious if a person knew that they had COVID-19, ignored advice to isolate themselves, and endangered others. The biggest challenge in such a case would likely be proving that their actions were the cause of the other person’s illness.

It is likely that a person who contracts COVID-19 through community spread will not be able to identify the person they contracted the virus from. However, if they could, they may succeed in a negligence claim if:

1. They became ill – mere exposure to the virus would not be sufficient;

2. The source of the virus knew, or should have known, that they were contagious; and

3. The source of the virus was careless in not staying home.

There would likely be several “causation” hurdles in bringing a successful case even in these circumstances.

1. The potential delay between exposure and the onset of illness;

2. The likelihood that the plaintiff was out in the community and therefore exposed to potential COVID-19 carriers on more than one occasion;

3. The possibility that the plaintiff was exposed to the virus from undiagnosed but contagious carriers. This is a more recent discovery about COVID-19.

These difficulties may be less challenging if several people who attended the same place contracted the virus and had little other potential exposure to it. However, even in these circumstances, establishing “causation” would not be certain.

Perhaps some lessons can be learned from prior litigation arising from claims based on the transmission of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. Several such lawsuits were brought in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. When plaintiffs in these lawsuits lost, it was often because causation was hard to prove.

Conclusion

We have seen on the news that not all Canadians are following instructions from the various levels of government to stay home unless there is a legitimate pressing need to go out, such as grocery shopping. Anyone experiencing symptoms that could be an indication of COVID-19, a cough or fever, have been instructed to self-isolate and not leave their house unless it is to get medical attention. As community spread continues across the country, we are seeing cases of people with symptoms ignoring this directive.

Anyone who can establish that, on a balance of probabilities (greater than 50%), they contracted COVID-19 from someone who ventured out into the public when they knew, or should have known, that they presented a COVID-19 threat to others, may be able to sue them for damages.

This blog post was written by Edward (Ted) Masters, a member of the Disability Insurance Claims and Personal Injury teams.  He can be reached at 613-566-2064 or at ted.masters@mannlawyers.com.

More Resources

Blog |
Wills, Trusts and Estates
By: 

Posted May 14, 2024

This is often a question that arises when someone dies with debts and the estate trustees  are at a loss as to what to do[...]
Blog |
Business Law
By: 

Posted May 9, 2024

Every story has to start somewhere. When buying or selling a business, the journey usually begins with a well drafted letter of intent. A letter of[...]
Blog |
Wills, Trusts and Estates
By: 

Posted April 23, 2024

In this day and age, social media is at the forefront of everything – it’s where people obtain news, it’s where people spend numerous hours[...]
Blog |
Wills, Trusts and Estates
By: 
Clients frequently ask how often they should update their Wills. We generally suggest that when clients sit down to do the oh so fun task[...]
Blog |
Real Estate
By: 
A tax sale is a sale process used by a municipality, in order to recover property tax arrears that have remained outstanding for at least[...]
Blog |
Wills, Trusts and Estates
By: 

Posted March 21, 2024

If someone wishes to make a Will or appoint a Power of Attorney, they must have the requisite capacity. The determination as to whether someone[...]
Ted Masters

Ted Masters

My practice is focused on helping people who have been injured in car accidents or through medical negligence or who have been denied disability insurance benefits. With over 40 years of experience as a personal injury lawyer, I understand how a serious injury or denial of disability benefits affects not just my individual client, but their entire family. I am alert to each client’s individual physical, emotional and financial needs and challenges. I work to achieve an outcome that is client focussed. As a trained mediator, I understand that my client’s personal goals must be met in order to come to a satisfactory resolution of their case, preferably through a reasonable settlement, but by trial judgement if necessary. Although assisting individuals has been the focal point of my legal career, my clients get the benefit of my wide range of litigation experience including disability claims, intellectual property litigation, commercial disputes, Indian... Read More

Read More About Ted Masters

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

"*" indicates required fields

Name*
Consent*
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.