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COVID-19 Lawsuits: An Inevitability

We are beginning to see lawsuits emerge from COVID-19: it was only a matter of time. After all, people are dealing with a completely new disease, altered work and school environments, different expectations and frequent changes to law, policy and regulations as the practical effects of the pandemic continue to evolve.  

At the university level, students throughout the country are suing their colleges for reimbursements based on claims that a virtual education is not what they signed up for. Some are seeking a refund of tuition monies they paid and housing and fees that are no longer applicable as they take classes from home. In addition, others argue a diploma based on a pass/fail system will substantially diminish its value. 

In employment context, individuals who allegedly contracted COVID-19 while on the job have filed workers’ compensation claims throughout Oklahoma. The outcome of those cases will determine whether the employers should be responsible for workers who become ill with the virus. This could have an impact on similar claims moving forward.

What types of cases might be at the forefront for our elementary and secondary public schools? One area that comes to mind is special education. Advocacy groups are expressing concern with schools’ ability to provide meaningful virtual options. With respect to IEP meetings, some parents and schools are attempting them online, while others are delaying them. Right now, most everyone is waiting on additional federal guidance.

One thing we know for sure about COVID-19 litigation is that the coming months will be interesting. Some lobbying groups are seeking safe harbor from various privacy, age and disability bias laws for employers who might have violated them as a way to comply with guidelines for at-risk employees. Employers are also seeking a safe harbor from general negligence claims by employees who were exposed to the virus, despite the employer having followed all the government protocols. In the meantime, there is likely to be a surge in litigation before all is said and done. We will keep you informed as we learn more.

Terri Thomas

Director, Legal Services

Terri Thomas serves as Director of Legal Services for OPSRC. Ms. Thomas is an attorney practicing exclusively in the area of Oklahoma school law, with a primary focus on rural and smaller school districts. Prior to OPSRC, she served as legal counsel for the Organization of Rural Oklahoma Schools (OROS).

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