Illinois Injury Report: Update on COVID-Related Cases in Illinois Courts

Oct 22, 2020

Today’s post continues Coffman Law’s “Illinois Injury Report” blog series, which summarizes and reports the latest news in Illinois concerning the areas of personal injury, medical malpractice, and more. Most recently, we covered a group of multi-million dollar crash case settlements and a teenage boy who was fatally struck while riding his bike. This week, we are taking a slightly different approach by pivoting to a brand new area of law that is being seen more and more in Illinois courts: COVID-related litigation. Namely, there have been a litany of recent lawsuits filed in Illinois in which the plaintiffs’ injuries all, to some extent, concern the COVID-19 virus and how a certain entity acted as a result of the pandemic. Today’s blog provides brief updates on high-stakes COVID-related lawsuits that have been filed against McDonald’s, Six Flags Great America, and Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

McDonald’s Facing Legal Challenges from Employees and Corporate Insurer

While McDonald’s restaurants have remained open as an “essential business” during the COVID-19 pandemic, its alleged lack of safety measures taken for employees has turned into legal chaos for McDonald’s Corp. The company’s issues began in May 2020 when five McDonald’s employees and four of their family members sued McDonald’s Corp. and various McDonald’s franchisees in Cook County. Specifically, these Plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging that McDonald’s Corp. and four of its Chicago franchise locations botched their COVID-19 safety response to the extent that it created a “public nuisance” for the community. Their complaint highlighted a litany of COVID-related safety blunders by McDonald’s, which include:

  1. A general lack of personal protective equipment (“PPE”) for workers
  2. Requirements that employees work closely to co-workers and customers
  3. Workers being forced to reuse dirty PPE
  4. Employees being directed to stay quiet about co-workers who are suddenly sick or absent
  5. An overall lack of adequate COVID-19 safety training.

About a month after Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit, they earned an initial win by the Court rejecting McDonald’s motion to dismiss the case. Then, just weeks later, these workers earned another victory when a Cook County judge issued a preliminary injunction requiring several Chicago McDonald’s restaurants to implement new safety measures concerning proper training and PPE for workers. As attorneys for both sides have continued to litigate this high-profile case, substantial legal bills have started to accumulate for McDonald’s Corp. Consequently, McDonald’s Corp. and its franchisees were forced to file a separate lawsuit against the company’s corporate insurer, Austin Mutual Insurance Co., after the insurer refused to cover the initial legal bills. This separate action is still in its early stages, but in mid-October, Austin Mutual filed a motion to dismiss McDonald’s case, arguing that the damages allegedly stemming from the workers’ lawsuit are not covered by the company’s insurance policies.

Six Flags Hit with Class Action Lawsuit Over Membership Fees Charged During COVID-19 Pandemic

An Illinois resident recently filed suit against Six Flags Great America claiming that the popular amusement park improperly continued charging membership fees even while its park was closed during the pandemic. Plaintiff Ryan Strassburger, a member of Six Flags’ “Gold Plus” membership group, alleges that despite the park being closed through at least mid-May, Six Flags continued charging members their monthly fees (which range from $7-$42). Plaintiff emphasizes that “the vast majority of customers sign up for a monthly membership” for the “sole reason…to have access to Defendants’ parks…”

Plaintiff’s complaint, which was filed October 8, 2020 in the Circuit Court of Cook County, includes nine total causes of action asserted against Six Flags. Specifically, Plaintiff seeks monetary and injunctive relief for the alleged breach of contract, fraud, unjust enrichment, and violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, to name just a few of the claims asserted. Most importantly, Plaintiff seeks to represent both a nationwide class of Six Flags members who were charged membership fees while the parks were closed and a subclass of Illinois residents who were improperly charged the same fees. If Plaintiff is able to certify (i.e., when the court holds that a certain group may proceed as a class action) these proposed classes, Six Flags will be facing a legitimate legal threat and potentially significant exposure.

Court Refuses to Dismiss Lawsuit Filed by Former Northwestern Nurse Allegedly Fired for Wearing N95 Mask

In March 2020, Northwestern Memorial Hospital fired nurse Lauren Mazurkiewicz after she wore an N95 facemask to work instead of the mask provided by Northwestern. One day before her termination, Mazurkiewicz had sent her co-workers and supervisors an emailing stating that, because of its effectiveness, she would continue wearing an N95 facemask rather than the type provided by Northwestern. Shortly after this incident, Mazurkiewicz sued Northwestern alleging that the hospital unlawfully fired her in retaliation for warning her co-workers of the dangers posed by the hospital’s inadequate facemasks. Mazurkiewicz’s complaint stated that she was in direct contact with confirmed COVID-19 patients, and thus ignored Northwestern’s mandate by continuing to wear an N95 facemask.

Shortly after her lawsuit was filed, Plaintiff Mazurkiewicz agreed to dismiss her claims against the individual Northwestern employees as well as her Illinois Whistleblower Act claim against all Defendants. Northwestern then filed a motion seeking to dismiss Plaintiff’s only remaining claim: the allegation that Northwestern fired Plaintiff in retaliation for her email regarding N95 facemasks. Northwestern’s motion primarily arguing that Plaintiff’s internal email was “little more than a personal gripe” and that the hospital’s conduct did not violate any mandated public policy in Illinois. However, in an order issued September 15, 2020, a Cook County judge rejected the hospital’s arguments by finding that: (1) Plaintiff’s email was not only a private concern but rather one that concerned the spread of COVID-19; and (2) Defendant’s alleged conduct did violate an established public policy, “as it does without saying that Illinois has a clearly mandated public policy of stopped the spread of COVID-19…”

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.