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Negligence Cases Against Airports for Spread of COVID-19

As persons sickened by COVID-19 recover from the effects of the illness, and as families grieving the loss of loved ones face a new reality, attention is turning to the persons and entities responsible for infecting millions of Americans.

Experts agree that COVID-19, like past coronaviruses such as SARS and H1N1, spread across the globe by plane. Even as COVID-19 began to spread, the airline industry encouraged travelers to keep flying. Whether entities like the City of Charlotte, which owns Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, will face liability for their handling of incoming passengers during the outbreak, depends on the reasonableness of their actions.

Airports, Airlines, Cities Remained Open Even as Virus Spread

Individuals, businesses, and local governments had good reasons to keep airports open and businesses running as COVID-19 spread across the United States. Businesses sought to avoid what became inevitable: millions of job losses and business closings. The City of Charlotte, meanwhile, reported a $13.7 million revenue shortfall stemming from slow business and paltry sales taxes. Airport workers, like millions of other Americans, kept working, even though they were sure COVID-19 was coming to their own neighborhoods (“You can’t say it’s not going to come this way, because it will.”).

Thus, as COVID-19 began to spread in the United States, airports remained open, ferrying hundreds of thousands of passengers into the United States, even from known virus hotspots.

By February, airports in Asia had begun performing thermal screening of passengers, measuring their body “temperature through thermal imaging and temperature-detection equipment,” according to Airport Technology.

Other airports began cleaning “high contact areas” and installing thousands of hand sanitizers, while in the United States, the federal government set up quarantine centers next to nearly a dozen major airports.

Analyst Sounds Alarm Over Airport’s Response to Virus Spread

On Monday, March 15, 2020, as the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic began to reveal itself, a research analyst flew home to the United States from Vienna, Austria, landing at Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International Airport. Writing in the Washington Post, the analyst said she encountered, at Dulles, “a case study in how to spread a pandemic.”

After arriving, the analyst spent three hours “in a jammed immigration hall” with people who were “coughing, sneezing,” and who looked unwell. After having her temperature taken and asked if she had traveled to China, the analyst—having just been “immersed in [a] three-hour virus incubator…[was] unleashed on the American public, free to mingle.”

The analyst blamed the federal government for shoddy passenger screening, but as later political fights to reopen American businesses and society showed (“Cuomo says Trump is not a king, can’t force states to reopen”), the federal government does not run everything, and its authority extends only so far.

Duty of Cities to Protect Residents From Incoming Deadly Pathogens

It is evident that municipalities like the City of Charlotte—which owns Charlotte-Douglas International Airport—knew about the dangers COVID-19 posed to residents, yet travelers returning to the United States from virus hotspots have claimed they were not even screened on their return.

If a person was exposed to COVID-19 as a result of the actions or omissions of a municipality, the person may be entitled to damages for out-of-pocket medical costs, pain and suffering, and any permanent damage or loss of function caused by an infection.

Charlotte Personal Injury Lawyers Can Help With COVID-19 Claims

Airports could have taken the following reasonable precautionary steps to prevent the infection of residents, including:

  • Screening travelers for symptoms of the illness and isolating those with symptoms;
  • Identifying and isolating any persons who may have traveled to virus hotspots;
  • Refusing entry to symptomatic persons;
  • Requiring all travelers to wear protective clothing and masks on arrival;
  • Enacting social distancing measures in airports to lower the risk of transmission;
  • Employing disinfection measures;
  • Limiting or prohibiting travel to and from known virus hotspots;
  • Quarantining infected persons.

If an airport failed to take reasonable steps to protect persons from exposure to COVID-19, a person injured by the airport owner’s negligence may be entitled to compensation. The professionals at Arnold & Smith, PLLC can assist persons with COVID-19 related claims.

COVID-19 Negligence Claims in Charlotte, North Carolina

Nearly all personal injury claims in North Carolina must be brought within three (3) years of the date of an injury. Airport negligence cases are likely to involve significant investigation, preparation, and litigation. Therefore, it is critical that a person injured by exposure to COVID-19 contact an experienced, local personal injury attorney as soon as possible.

With offices in Charlotte, Monroe, and Mooresville, 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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