It is difficult to estimate the scope or underestimate the myriad ways in which the Covid-19 pandemic will affect litigation in New York. We will soon see nearly every type of suit impacted by this crisis: employment, landlord-tenant, insurance, foreclosures, labor, contract, and naturally those involving healthcare work. Indeed, actions against state and local governments are not immune – suits have already been filed alleging inadequate response time on their behalf – and these will surely be on the rise.
Class action lawsuits have already been filed addressing the massive shutdowns caused by the pandemic, and more are sure to follow. For example, breach of contract class actions were filed against various fitness centers for continuing to charge membership dues despite their closures. Several class action suits have been filed against companies for failure to issue adequate refunds after mass cancellations of events and flights, alleging violation of consumer protection laws, unjust enrichment, fraudulent misrepresentation, conversion, and breach of contract. We are also seeing class action suits against universities for continuing to charge tuition and fees despite the premature closures.
Consumer-related claims are on the rise, ranging from allegations of price gauging to false claims, such as hand sanitizers that “prevent coronavirus”. Insurance lawsuits have also been filed for failure to cover Covid-19 related business closures – and these claims will certainly grow.
Perhaps the most obvious lawsuits that can be expected to follow this pandemic are those related to the healthcare industry. Healthcare workers, including the New York State Nurses Association, have already begun to file claims against their employers alleging poor working conditions, inadequate personal protective equipment, and insufficient training.
We can also, unfortunately, expect to see lawsuits in which parties are alleged to have taken advantage of this crisis and used it to mask their actionable conduct. Examples of those cases already filed include a copyright infringement suit against a company selling N95 masks with counterfeit trademarks, an action against an employer alleging racially motivated termination, whose employer claims the termination was related to the pandemic, and a breach of lease action against a company that previously abandoned its lease, but is alleged to have used the current pandemic to terminate the lease improperly.
The reach and magnitude of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on litigation in New York remain to be seen. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Nicole Milone is an Associate in the Litigation Practice Group at Certilman Balin, LLP.