A former employee of a construction company filed suits against his former employer claiming that the latter “knowingly transferred workers from an infected construction site to [the plaintiff’s] jobsite without following the safety procedures required by [a San Francisco] Health Order,” that he “was forced to work in close contact with these employees and soon developed COVID-19, which he brought back home” where he infected his high-risk wife, who became severely ill.
His claims were dismissed by the lower court, which held they were barred by California's derivative injury doctrine (under the derivative injury doctrine, the exclusive remedy for claims deemed collateral to or derivative of an employee's work-related injuries is an action under the Worker’s Compensation Act).
The plaintiff filed an appeal against such decision before the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Deeming that such case presents issues of significant public importance for the State of California, by order of 21 April 2022, the Federal Court of Appeals asked the Supreme Court of California for answers to the following questions: “1. If an employee contracts COVID-19 at his workplace and brings the virus home to his spouse, does California’s derivative injury doctrine bar the spouse’s claim against the employer? 2. Under California law, does an employer owe a duty to the households of its employees to exercise ordinary care to prevent the spread of COVID-19?”.
A few weeks earlier, on 13 April 2022, the Supreme Court of California denied review of an opinion issued by the Court of Appeals in a very similar case (See’s Candies, Inc. v. Superior Court). As mentioned in our news post published on 31 December 2021, the opinion stated that the exclusivity provision of the Worker’s Compensation Act did not bar the employee-plaintiff’s action against her employer because the employee-plaintiff’s husband’s death was “allegedly causally related to [her] alleged infection by the virus in the workplace, but […] not derivative of that infection”.