RICH MILLER: Angry voters get a victory with COVID

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Rich Miller

Just a couple of months ago, more than 50,000 electronic witness slips were filed in opposition to a proposed legislative change to the state’s Health Care Right of Conscience Act.

Whether you believe all of those filings were legitimate or not, that’s still a gigantic uproar about a bill which stopped employees from trying to use state law to sue employers for requiring vaccines or regular COVID-19 tests as a condition of employment.

So, the recent over-the-top negative reaction to Rep. Jonathan Carroll’s (D-Northbrook) bill to cut off COVID-19-related health insurance benefits for the unvaccinated should’ve been no major surprise.

“An Illinois Democrat who claims the unvaccinated are ‘clogging up the health care system’ has proposed a bill that would force them to pay all of their medical expenses out of pocket if they become hospitalized with the coronavirus,” blared the Fox News Channel. And all heck broke loose.

Carroll claims he was threatened with violence and so were his family, his staff, even his synagogue. His home address was posted on Twitter as were photos of his kids.

This monstrous behavior is beyond repugnant, but it’s not new. Ask the Republican legislators who voted to raise the state income tax in 2017 how they were pummeled on Facebook, partly because an anti-tax group allied with then-Gov. Bruce Rauner weaponized its own Facebook page followers against them.

Despite the often-insane levels of harassment, most of those Republicans stuck to their principles and voted to override Rauner’s veto of the tax hike. The future of the state was in peril because one man was insisting he wouldn’t approve restoring desperately needed revenues without first slashing the power of unions here, and those Republicans were not going to be bullied by him or an angry mob into caving.

And, of course, the same sort of thing happened to many Democrats this fall before they voted to narrow the scope of the Health Care Right of Conscience Act to its original intent. They were flooded with calls and bombarded on social media.

The anti-vaxers, as it turns out, are even more wound up than the anti-taxers, although I’m betting it’s many of the same people who are perpetually angry about pretty much everything.

Rep. Carroll surrendered last week and filed a motion to table his controversial bill, handing a rare Illinois victory to the folks who insist beyond reason that vaccines contain microchips, or whatever their ridiculous conspiracy theory of the moment happens to be.

Members of a Facebook page I regularly track that promotes anti-vax theories and tactics celebrated the news of Carroll’s retreat. One member gleefully wrote: “Violence is the only thing tyrants fear and is the only thing that will stop them.”

So, not only did Rep. Carroll predictably stir up the rabble, he rewarded threats of violence with a win.

And this was all about a bill that wasn’t legal in the first place. Federal law prohibits what Carroll was trying to do, an inconvenient fact that was ignored or downplayed by most news media outlets which covered the legislation.

Most of the coverage was breathless and ignorant, fueling the hype on the far right. Only one reporter, Hannah Meisel at public radio station WUIS, got it right: “Unvaccinated COVID patients can’t be denied insurance coverage for hospitalizations as one Dem lawmaker wants, but employers, including Ill., have other options,” was her online headline.

Not only wasn’t Carroll’s bill legal, it also ran directly counter to Democratic Party doctrine, which favors health coverage for everyone. Carroll essentially advocating to destroy the finances of entire families because of the stupidity of a single family member was bizarre.

But, really, all this bill was designed to do was attract attention and get lots of “clicks” and make his allies cheer and his enemies boo. It was a pointless game. Carroll’s bill wasn’t going anywhere, and he knew it.

And Carroll’s behavior is an insult to the people who have bravely stood up to the angry haters for just causes. They couldn’t back down because so much was at stake. Carroll, on the other hand, just walked away with a shrug, claiming despite all evidence that he didn’t intend to be divisive. Carroll taught those angry people the absolute wrong lesson.

I feel horrible for Rep. Carroll’s family, his staff and his rabbi for being put through this disgusting and needless drama. I hope he apologizes to them. And then maybe he should apologize to everyone else for giving the angriest among us a victory.

Most common types of COVID-19 legal complaints

Most common types of COVID-19 legal complaints

As COVID-19 continues to spread, so too do legal complaints—from challenges to gathering in groups, to event cancellations, to businesses suing their insurers for coverage of lost income.

The coronavirus has exposed many of the flaws and weaknesses in the local and federal governments, in supply chains, and in business relationships, which have been punctuated by an emergence of lawsuits specifically around the COVID-19 pandemic. Some are individuals suing on behalf of themselves or loved ones, often for those who were exposed to the coronavirus—in a nursing home, an assisted-living space, at a restaurant, or at work. Just as many are class action lawsuits: groups of individuals, companies or businesses suing a city or a state, or a state or federal branch, or suing a particular company or corporation.

Based on data from the Hunton Andrews Kurth COVID-19 Complaint Tracker, there have been more than 11,000 complaints filed across the country since January 2020. Zapproved used data from the complaint tracker to compile a list of the most common types of COVID-19 legal complaints. The complaint tracker is a database of both state and federal litigation involving COVID-19 claims and is updated daily. The different types of complaints are ranked by the number of legal complaints filed under each type since March 2020, and focuses primarily on corporate legal litigation. California leads the country with more than 2,000 complaints, followed by New York, Florida, Texas, and New Jersey.The month-over-month and state-by-state data is as of Aug. 10, 2021.

Lawyers, judges, and legal experts have been scrambling to keep up with how to handle issues for which there aren’t always clear laws or regulations. Many of the cases are still being litigated, and given the renewed fervor over mask mandates and the debate over whether people should be required to show proof of vaccination, the number of complaints aren’t likely to slow down any time soon.

Read on for the most common types of COVID-19 legal complaints.




Andrey_Popov // Shutterstock



#10. Discrimination (especially age, national origin, and sex/pregnancy)

– Complaints filed: 248

Discrimination complaints tend to be filed by or on behalf of people who feel they’ve been discriminated against, usually based on their age, ethnicity, gender, or national origin. Many discrimination complaints have involved the plaintiff or the defendant accusing or being accused of having COVID-19 and spreading it, then being discriminated against based on one or the other. In Alabama, a former employee at a Muscle Shoals metalworking company claims he was laid off during the pandemic because business had slowed down, but when it picked up again, he was not rehired and instead his job went to a younger employee. According to the workforce law firm of Fisher Phillips, “We can expect to see these decisions, and a growing number of additional appellate court decisions, throughout 2021—and beyond.”




Julio Rivalta // Shutterstock



#9. Failure to refund

– Complaints filed: 365

Many of the cases in this category boil down to people trying to get their money back for goods or services they paid for ahead of time—such as a concert, a trip, a sporting event, or a wedding—or for the money they invested in a musical tour or a Broadway show, for example, trying to get insurers to cover their losses. There are also complaints registered for refusing to grant refunds to people who’d bought tickets to the 2020 Summer Olympics, the cost of airline tickets for canceled flights due to the coronavirus, canceled cruises, and canceled safaris. One class action suit was filed in Pennsylvania against Southwest Airlines for not following the Department of Transportation’s enforcement notice that advised airlines to give customers full refunds if flights were canceled due to the coronavirus. For some, the most the airline has done is to offer vouchers and credits.




Brian Ach // Shutterstock



#8. Health/Medical (malpractice, right to visit nursing home patients, wrongful death)

– Complaints filed: 422

At least half of the health and medical complaints deal with elder abuse, negligent care of residents or patients at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, some of whom contracted COVID-19 and died, some who suffered from unattended bedsores or falls, and some of whom were exposed to others who had COVID-19. As stated on the website of specialty insurance distributor Amwins, “With the increasing perception that these [COVID-19 deaths] were preventable, comes the specter of litigation.” So many, in fact, that BestLawyers set up a webpage dedicated to lawyers handling COVID-19 cases. In Buffalo, New York, the daughter of a husband and wife who died of COVID-19 in a nursing home sued the facility because the company did not take proper precaution against the pandemic. Nursing homes in New York also received immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits "except in the most egregious cases" in March of 2020.




Dmytro Zinkevych // Shutterstock



#7. Education

– Complaints filed: 468

Lately, most of the education lawsuits have to do with children in schools being required or not required to wear masks. Up until the vaccines had started rolling out through most of the country in March, the educational issue was whether to keep schools open—or shut them and stick with virtual learning. As with almost everything related to the coronavirus, especially when it comes to public education and children, it’s difficult to know who to listen to. There are just as many people suing for a mask mandate as there are suing against them. Parents continually find themselves in the middle of these mask mandate disputes, wanting their children in school learning and socializing, but wanting them safe as well.




Drazen Zigic // Shutterstock



#6. Business closure, stay-at-home orders, and group-gathering-ban challenges

– Complaints filed: 650

The complaints in this category revolve around the issue of an individual’s pursuit of happiness, or entrepreneurial success, vis-a-vis the community in which that person or their business operates. Tootsie’s World Famous Orchid Lounge in Nashville originally complied with the mayor’s order to shut down the city’s bars in July 2020, but then sought a restraining order against it a month later, and filed a lawsuit against the city at the same time, and again this June, on the grounds the mayor and other city employees had “issued unconstitutional mandates for controlling COVID-19, closing all bars and restaurants without scientific evidence or reasoning,” and that the city’s order was unconstitutional. And in Erie County, New York, nearly 100 restaurants and bars sued to stop former governor Andrew Cuomo from imposing a 10 p.m. curfew on their businesses earlier this year and were able to convince a judge the state had no justification for doing so. As has been the case for so many who’ve sued on such grounds, according to their attorneys, Erie’s plaintiffs were “on the verge of shutdown, economic disaster, insolvency and/or bankruptcy.”




J.J. Gouin // Shutterstock



#5. Real property (damage to property, evictions, mortgage disputes)

– Complaints filed: 866

Most of the real property cases involve tenants fighting eviction or tenants who’ve been charged for rent during lockdowns, or landlords trying to collect rent from tenants who’ve claimed hardship caused by lockdowns. In Miami, the landlord of a shopping center brought an action against a commercial tenant alleging the tenant breached its lease by failing to pay rent and other charges beginning in April 2020 and continuing thereafter. Most cases like this one hinge on the force majeure provision—the so-called “acts of God” clause, an unforeseen event that many tenants have cited as their inability to pay rent or mortgage. 




ERIC BARADAT/AFP // Getty Images



#4. Contract disputes (event cancellations, failure to refund, etc.)

– Complaints filed: 889

Across the country, contractors who’d been given money for wedding venues, home additions, and bus services had to cancel due to the coronavirus. Now plaintiffs everywhere want their money back. Last year, a New York judge ruled in favor of a defendant who canceled a certain event, saying the pandemic qualified as a “natural disaster,” and so “a circumstance beyond the parties’ reasonable control.” Hence, no refund. On the other hand, as pointed out by the Wall Street Journal, plaintiffs can sometimes get their money back. Acknowledging the cost of hiring a lawyer, most civil courts allow consumers to file a claim without legal representation, and help settle disputes of claims no higher than $5,000 or $10,000. “As a consumer,” said Sally Greenberg, executive director at the National Consumers League, a Washington D.C.-based consumer-advocacy nonprofit, “you have to fight it out on your own.” The National Law Review website provides information on cases involving canceled events, the force majeure clause, and unwritten contracts.




fizkes // Shutterstock



#3. Unlawful termination

– Complaints filed: 1,738

Lawsuits claiming employees were wrongfully terminated, including the following instances of possible discrimination: Employees who’ve been fired for testing positive for COVID-19; weren’t allowed to work from home during lockdown; expressed concern about working with untested co-workers or co-workers who tested positive or wouldn’t practice social distancing; and Black, older, and disabled workers claiming they were let go over COVID-19 issues while their white or younger or able-bodied co-workers stayed on. Complaints about workplace safety have surged along with the coronavirus. According to Bloomberg Law, “The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had received 14,325 such complaints through March 28, while state-operated OSHA agencies have gotten 49,125 of them.” Not surprisingly, lawsuits have proven to be workers’ best tools in advocating for their safety. “Nobody wants to lose their job,” says Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. “People desperately need their work. But they also need not to worry about dying for work.”




Joe Raedle // Getty Images



#2. Civil rights

– Complaints filed: 1,808

Up until the vaccine became available, most civil rights lawsuits—such as the one filed by an upstate New York law firm on behalf of 38 small businesses in Amherst, New York—challenged the restrictions imposed on them in response to the pandemic. Lately, as the coronavirus delta variant has led to a surge in COVID-19 infections, and as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is again urging people to wear masks, even if vaccinated. Cases like the one in Missouri—where the state’s Attorney General Eric Schmitt is challenging new mask orders in the Kansas City region—have become popular. As recently pointed out by Scott Bomboy, editor of the National Constitution Center, lawsuits around masks are complex, “with several federal and state constitutional issues at play,” from “separation of powers within the federal government and the states,” and myriad issues within each state.




Fractal Pictures // Shutterstock



#1. Insurance

– Complaints filed: 1,926

Insurance complaints consist of a litany of bad faith claims and failure to provide coverage for losses due to COVID-19 restrictions. The cases range from the little guys—like Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern, Purple Pig, Lettuce Entertain You, and other small businesses that are suing Society Insurance for business interruption insurance. While in Las Vegas, casino owner Steve Wynn and his resorts are taking on insurer Factory Mutual over the same issue. According to Law.com staff reporter Amanda Bronstad, “Most judges, particularly in federal courts, have sided with the insurers, which have insisted that COVID-19 did not result in a physical loss or damage to their properties, as required under the policies. But some courts have sided with policyholders, leaving businesses a window of opportunity to pursue the claims farther.” But there have been numerous appeals from both sides. As one lawyer in Bronstad’s article who’d recently lost an appeal on behalf of an Ohio dental firm against its insurer put it, “It was very unlikely that both sides [plaintiffs or defendants] would get clarification soon. It’s going to take a long time to shake this out, and I’ll be really surprised if this shakes out the same way.”

 

This story originally appeared on Zapproved and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.




Andrey_Popov // Shutterstock



Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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December 10, 2021 at 06:32PM

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