Acts of COVID-19-Lockdown Defiance Will be Seen as Contributory Negligence

Protestors in cities across the United States began clamoring for an end to state-mandated lockdowns as the spread of COVID-19 appeared to plateau.

Beaches in Jacksonville, Florida reopened as the Sunshine State eased restrictions on its residents. In the Tar Heel State, meanwhile, a group opposed to North Carolina’s lockdown order has demanded protection from arrest as it plans further protests aimed at reopening the state’s economy.

Experts have warned that reopening businesses too soon could lead to a new spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Officials with the Cabarrus Health Alliance have been tracking a new spike in cases near Concord, North Carolina, where Easter gatherings, weddings, and birthday parties between April 3 and April 17 led to eighteen (18) confirmed new virus cases.

Persons in North Carolina who defy lockdown orders to gather in close proximity with third parties who may be infected with COVID-19 may face significant hurdles in actions based on the negligent infliction of COVID-19. Alleged at-fault persons or entities are likely to point to an infected person’s own acts of defiance—going out during a lockdown or exceeding the list of authorized activities during lockdown—as being the cause of an infection.

Exceeding Lockdown Restrictions May Serve As The “Proximate Cause” Of Infection

In North Carolina, a person alleging that the negligence of a person or business caused a person to contract COVID-19 must prove the following:

  • The person or business owed the infected person a duty of care;
  • The person or business breached the duty of care that it owed to the infected person;
  • The breach of the duty of care by the person or business was the proximate cause of the infection suffered by the sickened person;
  • The infected person suffered damage or injury resulting from the breach of the duty of care by the at-fault person or business.

A person cannot win a negligence claim unless he or she proves, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the actions or omissions of an at-fault party served as the “proximate cause” of the person’s injury.

When a person’s own actions or omissions serve as the cause of one’s own injury, the link between the actions or omissions of an at-fault third party and the injury suffered by the person may be severed.

North Carolina is one of the last states in the United States to employ the doctrine of strict contributory negligence. The doctrine is a defense to negligence actions, and it means that if a plaintiff in a case was at fault for his or her own injury—even minimally at fault—the plaintiff cannot recover anything from the defendant.

For example, if a plaintiff walking in high heels steps on a crumbling walkway outside a business and falls, suffering injury, the crumbling walkway is both the source of the plaintiff’s action against the business and the business’s defense against the person. The person will point to the crumbling walkway, arguing that the business knew or reasonably should have known of the hazardous condition, and should have corrected it or warned patrons about it. The business, on the other hand, will argue that the person could readily see the walkway and could have simply walked around the crumbling area, and that many other people had traversed the walkway without incident.

Contributory negligence defenses are frequently brought before a court on a defendant’s motion for summary judgment, which means a judge can dismiss a plaintiff’s case on the ground that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent as a matter of law before the case ever reaches trial.

Contributory Negligence Defense Will Complicate COVID-19 Cases in North Carolina

If a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 has failed to take reasonable steps to protect oneself from exposure to the virus, the infected person may face an additional hurdle in any litigation regarding virus exposure. The professionals at Arnold & Smith, PLLC can assist persons infected by COVID-19 virus who believe their infection resulted from the negligent conduct or omissions of a third party, even if persons became exposed after eschewing lockdown orders.

Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC Today To Schedule A Free Consultation

Persons who believe their exposure to COVID-19 was caused by the negligent acts or omissions of a third party should contact an experienced, local personal injury attorney. The professionals at Arnold & Smith, PLLC can assist injured persons in preparing and filing claims against at-fault persons or companies.

With offices in Charlotte, Mooresville, and Monroe, Arnold & Smith, PLLC handles personal injury cases across the entire State of North Carolina. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today to set up a free initial consultation.

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