Coronavirus and the Law: Illinois Courts Consider Insurance Fraud, Wrongful Death Claims Related to COVID-19

Jan 7, 2021

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on throughout the United States, the virus continues to affect virtually every aspect of our daily lives. The legal system is no exception to this trend either, as courts are gradually beginning to see more and more coronavirus-related litigation. Today’s post continues Coffman Law’s “Coronavirus and the Law” blog series, which analyzes the slew of ongoing disputes in American courtrooms concerning COVID-19. Specifically, this post summarizes four recent Illinois lawsuits in which the plaintiffs’ alleged injuries directly related to COVID-19. The first two cases involve insurance policyholders claiming that Geico fraudulently increased prices during the pandemic, and the second two are novel coronavirus “take-home” lawsuits in which the plaintiffs allege that a business’s careless COVID-19 protocols caused their relative to bring the virus home.

Geico Facing Two Class Actions Over Allegedly Excessive Insurance Premiums

In July 2020, Geico was hit was two separate class-action lawsuits in Illinois alleging that the insurance company failed to properly adjust its insurance premiums during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first case, Plaintiff Briana Siegal claimed that even despite Geico’s 15% giveback program, the company’s insurance premiums during the pandemic have been “unconscionably excessive.” In support of her argument, Siegal points to a report from the Consumer Federation of America “conservatively” stating that auto insurers should provide at least a 30% premium deduction in light of the reduced number of drivers and accidents during the pandemic. Siegal’s complaint asserted violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, as well as claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and frustration of purpose.

Approximately one week later, a second class action was filed against Geico in Illinois. In this case, Plaintiffs Roxanne and James Thomas asserted virtually identical claims to those offered by Briana Siegal, as Plaintiffs here also found Geico’s 15% giveback offer to be wholly insufficient. In both of these COVID-related cases, though, Geico had made it clear that the company intends to strongly dispute the plaintiffs’ claims. Geico filed a motion to dismiss in October for the Siegal case, and in November for the Thomas case. In both motions, Geico generally argues that it never made any misleading statements regarding its giveback program and that the company had no duty to offer a discount to policyholders in the first place. Illinois courts have yet to rule on either of Geico’s motions to dismiss.

Illinois Businesses Hit with “Take-Home” COVID-19 Lawsuits after Family Members Contracted the Virus at Work

At least two Illinois employers thus far have been sued in so-called “take-home” COVID-19 lawsuits. These novel cases seek to hold businesses liable after that business’s employee brought coronavirus home and infected others. In August 2020, the Estate of Esperanza Ugalde filed what legal experts deemed to be the first “take-home” COVID-19 lawsuit asserting a wrongful death claim. Here, Ugalde died of COVID-19 after her husband contracted the virus while working at Aurora Packing Company’s meat processing plant. Ugalde’s complaint claimed that Aurora Packing Company acted negligently by failing to: (1) warn its employees about a COVID-19 spread at its facility; (2) implement an infectious disease plan; (3) adequately clean the facility; (4) provide PPE to its employees; and (5) screen its employees for COVID-19, among other claims.

Also in August, Plaintiff Miriam Alvarez Reynoso filed a similar take-home coronavirus lawsuit against Byrne & Schaefer, a manufactured located in Lockport, IL. In this case, Miriam Reynoso alleged that her husband, Servando Reynoso, contracted COVID-19 while working at Byrne & Schaefer and subsequently brought the virus home. Both Miriam Reynoso and her husband tested positive for COVID-19 just days after Servando started feeling ill at work. Reynoso’s case does not involve a wrongful death claim, but it does allege that Byrne & Schaefer failed to incorporate reasonable safety measures such as providing PPE, implementing social distancing, and adequately sterilizing work areas.

Both of these cases are still in their early stages, but moving forward, Illinois businesses should expect to see more of these coronavirus “take-home” lawsuits. It will be interesting, though, to see how courts perceive these claims. While they are novel allegations in the context of COVID-19, courts have seen take-home infectious disease cases before in connection with asbestos litigation (including a $27.3M jury verdict out of California). With respect to workplace injuries, American law usually limits an injured employee’s claim by forcing them to go through the workers compensation system. However, since take-home cases are typically not filed by the actual employee, courts may allow the claims to move forward. Courts are split on this issue, but stay tuned to the Coffman Law Blog, as we will continue to update readers on the latest COVID-related legal news and more!

If any readers have suffered an injury related to the COVID-19 pandemic or generally at the fault of another party, do not hesitate to reach out to Coffman Law. Owner and Founding Partner Brian Coffman has handled virtually every type of personal injury case, and through his experience defending corporate insurers for years prior to founding his own firm, Brian has also come to understand the strategies typically employed by insurance companies in these types of cases. Click HERE to contact our office for a free consultation.

About Coffman Law Offices, P.C.

Coffman Law is Chicago’s leading personal injury law firm and is committed to providing superb legal representation for people who are suffering from severe personal injuries or are dealing with the loss of a loved one due to negligence or misconduct. Coffman Law is a results-driven law firm focused on ensuring that clients receive the compassion, attention, and consideration that they need to seek adequate compensation for injuries or loss. The firm is led by Owner and Founding Partner Brian Coffman, who has dedicated his career to helping accident victims navigate the legal system and obtain compensation for their injuries. If you have been injured or lost a loved one, contact Coffman Law today for a free consultation.