Coronavirus Impact on Injury Cases Involving Respiratory Illness

If your personal injury case involves respiratory illness, the coronavirus could have a significant effect on your legal strategy.

The coronavirus pandemic seems to have impacted nearly everyone (and nearly everything), and personal injury lawsuits are no exception. For many claimants, the effects may be more procedural, stretching out the typical timeline of a personal injury case and delaying settlement or other resolution. But for others, the coronavirus pandemic (and the threat of infection) can play a more substantive role, especially if the claimed "damages" include pulmonary or respiratory injuries.

Cases That Could See the Biggest Coronavirus Impact

If the nature and extent of the injuries or illness that led to your case includes damage to your lungs, there’s a good chance that the coronavirus could affect your lawsuit in some way. This is especially true if you're still only considering filing a personal injury lawsuit.

Depending on the source of the data, some estimates predict that more than 100 million Americans will eventually become infected with the COVID-19 at some point. This may very well turn out to be an overestimate, but it shows the vast swath of personal injury lawsuits the coronavirus might influence. Let's look at two types of common personal injury cases that often involve respiratory issues:

  • mesothelioma/asbestos lawsuits, and
  • vaping/e-cigarettes lawsuits.

Mesothelioma and Asbestos Lawsuits

Asbestos exposure accounts for the vast majority of mesothelioma cases, especially pleural mesothelioma, a cancer that attacks a lining of the lungs. One key symptom of pleural mesothelioma is shortness of breath, which also happens to be one of the key identifying symptoms of the coronavirus.

The biggest impact of the coronavirus on asbestos cases will likely come when determining damages, especially if the mesothelioma diagnosis was recent. For one thing, a prospective or current plaintiff might be in the process of receiving mesothelioma medical treatment, and the coronavirus might make it more difficult to continue that course of care, given how many hospitals and medical facilities have fewer resources available for non-coronavirus treatment. But in addition to treatment delays, if a mesothelioma plaintiff were to contract coronavirus, they will be at higher risk of developing serious complications.

Assuming a mesothelioma plaintiff survives coronavirus infection, it will be difficult to show whether a worsening of his or her condition is attributable to the coronavirus, to mesothelioma, or to a combination of both. A big part of any mesothelioma settlement or court award will probably include compensation for pain and suffering. But how much of the plaintiff’s pain and suffering will be due to a severe coronavirus infection, and how much will be due to mesothelioma? The asbestos defendant is sure to argue that it was the coronavirus that caused much of the plaintiff's pain and discomfort.

Note that one key element of a personal injury case, causation, isn’t likely to be affected by the coronavirus in an asbestos case. Asbestos use is heavily restricted in the United States and much of the world. So any new mesothelioma cases will probably be the result of prior asbestos exposure over the last few decades. Because the current coronavirus pandemic is caused by a recent novel strain (named SARS-CoV-2), it’s next to impossible for coronavirus exposure to have occurred before the plaintiff's exposure to asbestos.

Vaping and E-Cigarette Lawsuits

Unlike asbestos/mesothelioma claimants, one of the biggest coronavirus-related challenges for vaping and e-cigarette lawsuit plaintiffs will be proving causation. This is because of how the coronavirus pandemic and vaping-related illnesses are situated in terms of time.

Coronavirus infections in the United States are almost all going to have occurred in 2020 and later. Many vaping lawsuits began as early as 2015, but it's a growing trend, and a certain number of future vaping lawsuit plaintiffs are bound to be survivors of a coronavirus infection. This could pose a big hurdle, owing to the similarities in harm caused by the coronavirus and vaping. For example, individuals who suffer severe coronavirus symptoms may have lung scarring that lasts years or even decades.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the most notable lung injuries from vaping is EVALI, a vaping product use-associated lung injury. Medical professionals have found that EVALI has many similarities to other types of lung injuries, including acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS. ARDS is one of the most serious complications that can occur when someone becomes infected with the coronavirus.

It’s also possible that vaping can cause chronic lung disease, one of the characteristics that can put someone at higher risk for suffering from more severe symptoms if they get the coronavirus.

Imagine a current e-cigarette user who gets the coronavirus. Now assume this person is one of the relatively rare cases of infected individuals who need extensive medical care, including intubation and the use of a ventilator. Luckily, this person survives the coronavirus infection, but with lung damage, including scarring to lung tissue. Despite this long-term damage from the coronavirus, they believe that vaping also caused damage to their lungs.

After the vaping lawsuit is filed, the defendant e-cigarette manufacturer asks to see the plaintiff’s medical records as part of the "discovery" process. Once the defendant learns of the prior coronavirus diagnosis, treatment, and resulting injuries, the defendant’s lawyers might have a pretty solid argument that the plaintiff’s lung injuries were the result of the coronavirus, not vaping. Learn more about why a proper diagnosis is crucial in a vaping/e-cigarette lawsuit.

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