Some Victims of COVID Can Sue Trump; He Infected Some 30,000 With Negligent Rallies
COVID Victims Might Be Able To Sue Trump
WASHINGTON, D.C. (November 2, 2020) – While President Trump continues to downplay the pandemic, even as confirmed cases and COVID deaths continue to rise, a new study suggests that some victims might be able to sue him.
That’s because Trump could face law suits, probably as class actions, from as many as 30,000 persons who became infected with the coronavirus, including the estates of 700 who died as a result, from 18 recent Trump rallies, including many innocent third parties who did not even attend the events, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.
If the claim sounds exaggerated, doubters should remember that Banzhaf has been called “a Driving Force Behind the Lawsuits That Have Cost Tobacco Companies Billions of Dollars,” and “The Law Professor Who Masterminded Litigation Against the Tobacco Industry.”
He also forced McDonald’s to pay over $12 million to settle a novel law suit over fat in its french fries, and, in another unusual law suit, forced former Vice President Spiro T. Agnew to repay the money he took in bribes, even through the State of Maryland had refused to take any legal action to recover it.
The numbers are based on a careful published study by Stanford researchers who concluded that, based upon COVID-19 data during the weeks after each rally, there were some 30,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 which led to more than 700 deaths. As the Stanford researchers put it: “The communities in which Trump rallies took place paid a high price in terms of disease and death.”
Banzhaf argues that holding such mass-spreader events in clear defiance of well-accepted COVID medical guidelines and overwhelming scientific evidence meets the well-established definition of “negligence” – a failure to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances, and/or refusing to behave like a reasonably prudent person.
While Trump’s lawyers could plead that those who were maskless at the event were also negligent [contributory negligence], and/or had assumed the risk by choosing to attend, plaintiff’s attorneys are sure to argue that their clients reasonably relied upon repeated assurances from the President about the safety of such events.
Moreover, contributory negligence or assumption of risk, even if established, could reduce the amount of damages, but in most situations would not provide a complete defense, claims law professor Banzhaf.
Also, since some of those who died – or became infected but lived (possibly with lingering medical problems) – did not attend the rallies, Trump’s defenses of “contributory negligence” and “assumption of risk” would not be available because the COVID victims did nothing which contributed to their medical problems.
Indeed, such third-party victims may not even have known that the people from whom they contracted the deadly disease secondhand – e.g., friends, fellow patrons of a restaurant or store or gym, co-workers, relatives, etc. – had attended a Trump rally, and therefore cannot be faulted in any way for their conduct, argues Banzhaf.
Although such third-party victims were an additional step removed from the negligent action [the rally], the legal doctrine of proximate cause still permits law suits to be brought to recover for their injuries or deaths, says Banzhaf.
In individual cases, there could obviously be problems proving causation; i.e., that the holding of the super-spreader rally, with people in very close proximity and with most not wearing masks, was in fact a cause of the COVID infection, but Banzhaf offers several counterarguments.
First, the burden of proving causation in civil cases is only the modest standard of “the preponderance of the evidence” (which essentially means that it was somewhat more likely than not that something occurred in a certain way) rather than the much higher “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard required to be met in criminal cases.
Second, in a class action law suit, it may be easier to establish that, in bulk, the rally was the cause of the infection for many members of the class, even if causation in fact cannot as easily be proven – even by the lower preponderance of the evidence standard – in individual specific cases.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, in many communities there is likely to be great sympathy for the COVID victims among jurors, who will decide the issue of causation, especially for the third-party plaintiffs who did not themselves attend the rally. Also, there may be little sympathy among jurors for Trump. This obviously could affect the jurors’ thinking, as well as the size of their verdict, suggests Banzhaf.
It also seems clear that Trump would have to provide his own defense, and pay any resulting judgments, without help from the government, says Banzhaf.
Trump Could Be Entitled To Governmental Assistance
Staging political rallies to generate support in an election is obviously not part of a president’s governmental duties, so he cannot claim to have been acting in his official capacity, and therefore entitled to governmental assistance.
Similarly, a federal judge has just ruled that the Justice Department cannot step in to shield or defend President Trump, in his status as a government employee, from a libel lawsuit brought because of statements he made while in office, since such actions were likewise ruled not to be a part of his official governmental duties, notes Banzhaf.
The court ruled that “the undisputed facts demonstrate that President Trump was not acting in furtherance of any duties owed to any arguable employer when he made the statements at issue. . . To conclude otherwise would require the Court to adopt a view that virtually everything the president does is within the public interest by virtue of his office.”
Lawyers who specialize in class action law suits who are eager to represent a large class of plaintiffs – to increase their chances of success, and of a large payout should they win – as well as those who for personal or political reasons hate the President, might want to consider filing such a novel outside-the-box law suit, suggests Banzhaf, who has himself won, to the surprise of many, such novel legal actions.
He notes that, even if not successful, such a legal action could generate large amounts of negative media coverage for Trump, and, through pre-trial discovery, uncover documents which could be very embarrassing to him.