How the Pandemic Changed the Legal Sector: Top 5 Industries Affected by COVID-19 Litigation

Published: October 13, 2022
How the Pandemic Changed the Legal Sector

As the world recovers from the COVID-19 virus, this global crisis’s ripple effects continue to influence how we work and live. Case in point: The legal industry is facing unprecedented challenges brought about by the pandemic.

Organizations of all industries were required to implement COVID testing and tracking measures, employee quarantine, vaccine mandates, and social distancing requirements at the height of the pandemic. As a result, many new legal issues arose from these pandemic policies.

According to the American Bar Association, there has been a decrease in the number of newly filed cases overall, except for one category that experienced a significant increase: COVID-19 litigation. In 2020, at least 309 employment cases were attributable directly to the pandemic.

In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at COVID-19 litigation, mainly what legal cases comprised it and which sectors are most affected by the sudden rise in legal action. Then, we’ll discuss how legal process outsourcing can help companies navigate the rising demand for pandemic-related lawsuits.

What Legal Cases Comprised COVID-19 Litigation?

Labor and Employment Lawsuits

The most common kind of COVID-19 litigation case involves labor and employment disputes. Between June and August of 2020, employees from various organizations filed 444 COVID-related workplace lawsuits, representing the highest monthly totals seen by the legal industry immediately following the pandemic’s start.

By the following year, during the summer of 2021, the number of COVID-19 litigation cases related to employment nearly doubled. About 715 workplace lawsuits landed on the desks of American employers.

Pandemic-related labor and employment cases may involve quarrels about company-mandated health screenings, vaccinations, and quarantine measures. Some employees filed lawsuits because of serious workplace safety concerns, while others argued that employers must reimburse their work-from-home or COVID-related expenses.

Wrongful Death and Injury Lawsuits

Although labor and employment issues may make up most of the COVID-19 litigation cases, some legal disputes are much more grave and severe. Following the spread of the infectious coronavirus, many people have filed negligence lawsuits against businesses they allege failed to implement adequate COVID protection protocols.

Many families whose primary breadwinners died from COVID-19 have filed for wrongful death. Meanwhile, employees who felt that their company didn’t set up adequate policies against virus transmission in the workplace have filed injury lawsuits.

In one notable case, a woman from California sued her husband’s workplace. She argued that she contracted the virus because her husband was exposed to it at work. The court dismissed the case, saying that the employer was not responsible for the health and safety of its worker’s wife. 

However, the California Supreme Court later accepted an appeal to address whether businesses can be held liable for not doing enough to prevent the spread of the virus to their employees’ households.

Disability and Discrimination Lawsuits

Disability and discrimination cases have also increased because of the pandemic. There have been numerous COVID-19 litigation cases where employees claimed their employers fired them after testing positive for the virus.  

One notable example is the lawsuit where a nurse tested positive for COVID-19. After 13 days of self-isolation, her company fired her because she allegedly refused to return to work immediately to be re-tested.

The court did not dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that COVID-19 could qualify as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), meaning that firing the nurse for testing positive is discriminatory. Similar legal cases also violated the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and other legal protections for Americans with disabilities.

Top 5 Sectors Affected by COVID-19 Litigation

Which Industries Were Most Affected By COVID-19 Litigation?

1. Healthcare

When it comes to COVID-19 litigation, healthcare is by far the most affected sector. More than 1 in 5 pandemic-related legal cases filed in America (22.2%) were against a healthcare facility.

Since healthcare workers were on the frontlines of the pandemic, the risk of being exposed to the virus was significantly higher for them than for the average person. Many medical workers may have become critically ill or disabled after exposure to COVID-19, while some may have even lost their lives. 

Suppose the families of the deceased or disabled workers believe that the hospital or healthcare facility did not sufficiently protect their medical staff by not following COVID policies or guidelines. In that case, they may file for wrongful death or injury lawsuit.

2. Pharmaceutical

Although the healthcare sector was the industry most affected by COVID-19 litigation, we cannot overlook the pandemic’s effects on the pharmaceutical industry. As panic over the coronavirus spread worldwide, pharmaceutical companies had to act quickly to develop and supply COVID vaccines, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), medications, and even hand sanitizers to the general public.

Since the pharmaceutical industry rushed to address the sudden demand for PPE, hand sanitizers, and medicines, some pharma companies allegedly sold defective or ineffective products. There have been several reports about pharmacies being sued for product liability or for making representations about their products without scientific evidence or research.

Even well-established and respected pharmaceutical companies are not exempt from COVID-19 litigation. A recent example is the patent infringement lawsuit against Pfizer, BioNTech, and Regeneron. The San Diego firm Allele Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals alleged that the three pharma companies developed their COVID-19 vaccines using the patented mNeonGreen fluorescent protein without Allele’s permission.

3. Financial Services and Insurance

During the pandemic, many employees lost their jobs, and many businesses shut down.  As such, financial institutions faced an increase in COVID-19 litigation cases involving foreclosures, debt collection proceedings, issues with loan moratoriums and restrictions, and bankruptcy filings.

Companies of all sizes had to consult legal professionals for assistance in filing documents and determining the best course of action for their organization. Additionally, many individuals and businesses filed insurance coverage lawsuits to increase protection for their properties, product lines, business interruption or delays, or injury claims.

4. Recruitment and Human Resources

The pandemic has created incredibly stressful working environments for recruiters and human resource professionals, from having to navigate online hiring and onboarding processes to executing COVID-19 policies in the workplace. As a result, many human resource personnel faced COVID-19 litigation lawsuits.

One of the most common allegations against human resource professionals involves failure to provide employees with a safe, virus-free workplace. Workers have filed cases against employers who did not follow COVID-19 mandates, requiring masks and temperature checks and providing PPE for all employees.

Some people have filed lawsuits claiming that recruiters and HR personnel discriminated against them for contracting COVID at work. Meanwhile, others state that employers have denied them sick or medical leave for reasons related to the COVID-19 virus.

5. Retail 

Another industry that has been significantly affected by COVID-19 litigation is the retail sector. In response to the global pandemic, retail businesses have worked hard to create and execute policies that keep their employees and customers safe from the virus, including navigating the transition to e-commerce while ensuring physical stores comply with COVID regulations.

Despite all their efforts, retailers face various COVID-19 litigation cases from workers and clients. Retail workers have filed many lawsuits, including compensation disputes on time spent getting tested or vaccinated, reimbursement for their rising internet usage due to work-from-home protocols, and workplace safety concerns.

Meanwhile, retail customers have filed numerous breaches of contract or breaches of warranty claims. Since the pandemic caused many stores to cease operations temporarily, some people could not make in-store returns for faulty or damaged products. Many of these consumers filed claims for the retailer to replace their broken product despite the expired warranty.

Navigate the Rise of COVID-19 Litigation Through Legal Process Outsourcing

Even as the pandemic ends, its ripple effects may continue disrupting the legal industry.  With SuperStaff’s legal process outsourcing solutions, you can navigate the complexities of and high demand for COVID-19 litigation while reducing the workload of your attorneys and legal staff.

Our LPO professionals focus on helping law firms operate in the most cost-efficient manner possible without compromising their legal operations. Whether representing a healthcare facility facing wrongful death cases or a retail business dealing with employment lawsuits, trust SuperStaff to provide the customized LPO solution that best meets your needs and those of your clients.

Contact us today, and let’s discuss how our legal process outsourcing team can help your law firm thrive!

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