An employee’s wife sued her husband’s employer for negligence in an attempt to hold her husband’s employer responsible for her COVID-19 infection. The complaint alleged that the employee’s wife contracted COVID-19 as a result of her husband’s exposure to a COVID-19 outbreak at his workplace. The complaint further alleged that the husband’s employer was negligent by failing to provide a safe workspace which in turn caused both husband and wife’s infections. The couple sought damages for contracting the COVID-19 infection and the subsequent hospitalization.
The United States District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed the suit, with prejudice, finding in part that California’s workers’ compensation statutes provide the exclusive remedy to the extent the employer may have any liability for the alleged harm.
California’s workers’ compensation law provides that workers’ compensation is the exclusive remedy for an employer’s liability where an employee sustains an injury in the course of employment. Because both the employee and his spouse’s claims hinge on the allegation that he contracted COVID-19 at the workplace, the only available redress is filing a workers’ compensation claim rather than a lawsuit for negligence.
The court also found that the spouse’s claims could be dismissed for the additional reason that the employer’s duty to provide a safe workplace does not extend to non-employees like her, where she contracted the virus away from employer’s premises.
This dismissal, if not appealed successfully, should help to assuage employer concerns over possible lawsuits by employees or their family members alleging a COVID-19 infection due to employer’s negligence. Employers must, however, still comply with federal, state, and local health and safety requirements.