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Covid19 – Civil Liability of those infected

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In this article, we examine the potential civil liability faced by those who are infected with the Covid-19 virus, whether they are confirmed or suspected cases of infection.

The Simple Case - Clear Knowledge of Infection

Imagine a scenario whereby someone is aware that he or she is infected by the Covid-19 virus, but flouts the requirement to stay in quarantine or self-confinement. Does that person have any liability for failing to comply with a duty of care not to expose others to the risk of being infected with Covid-19? The immediate answer to such a question would seem to be that a duty of care would indeed arise, the breach of which would give cause to a right of action in negligence whereby the victim of such a breach would seek both special as well as general damages.

Other Cases - Less Clear Situations

What is the situation in a case where, an infected person does not know for definite that he is infected with Covid19 but is aware of the need for increased care because of the possibility of the existence of an infection in its initial stages?

In such a case the situation may arise from an obligation to confine oneself for a certain period and a consequent failure to do so. Such a situation may arise during a quarantine period of self-confinement. A failure to adhere to any orders issued by the government in relation to such matters, beyond the potential criminal liability, may well amount to negligence, in the sense of a failure to comply with a duty of care that can arise in such a situation.

How is the duty of care established?

Various questions can arise in relation to such a matter.

For example, is it necessary for the potential tortfeasor to be aware of the fact that he or she has been infected with the virus? A logical response to such a question would be that it goes without saying that such knowledge has to be established prior to the creation of such a duty of care.

However, that alone does not seem to be the only relevant factor. Consider certain other situations giving cause to further questions about essentially the same basic line of inquiry as to when a duty of care may arise for a potential tortfeasor in relation to the prevention of the spreading of the Covid-19 virus.

Quite apart from the example of actual existence of knowledge on the part of the person who may be considered burdened with a duty of care, would such a duty also arise in case such a potential tortfeasor is aware that he or she belongs to a group of persons who ought to take precautionary measures in case an infection may be present even though no signs or symptoms have become apparent?

In particular, would such a person still be held in breach of a duty of care if he or she fails to comply with the full extent of the quarantine period or any other restrictions forming part of such a quarantine? It would seem reasonable, if the facts of the particular case can be thus summed up that such a person would be liable under a duty of care to comply with any obligations arising from such a duty.

Then again - quite apart from any quarantine requirement - does a duty of care exist in a situation where a person is considered at risk of being infected, due to contact with another person in a chain of potential infections, even if the infection has not been confirmed, or a quarantine was imposed?

Once again, the answer to such a question can only truly be given, as accurately as possible, on the basis of a thorough overview and examination of the actual facts of the particular situation.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a necessary constant would be an account that would have to be taken of the full extent of the scientific aspect of the manner in which the virus infects a person without any obvious signs of such an infection.

For example, the incubation period of COVID-19, that is to say the time between exposure to the virus and symptom onset, is on average 5-6 days, but can be as long as 14 days. That is the reason why quarantine has to be imposed for 14 days from the last exposure to a confirmed case.

Finally, a close analogy may be drawn between the subject of this article and the unprecedented at the time situation of the first scientifically acknowledged cases of infection by AIDS. Yet, such a comparison would require another article to adequately elaborate on the various aspects of such an analogy.

The content of this article is valid as at the date of its first publication. It is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter and does not constitute legal advice. We recommend that you seek professional advice on your specific matter before acting on any information provided. For further information or advice, please contact Manthos Mattheou, Special Counsel at manthos.mattheou@kyprianou.com