Thursday, November 18, 2021

Courts are still figuring out how COVID-19 fits into the legal scheme in Maryland

 Estate of Madden v. Southwest Airlines, Co., Civil Action No. 1:21-cv-00672-SAG, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117266 (D. Md. June 23, 2021)             

With the world still being in the throes of a global pandemic, the question has now turned to how courts are deciding cases that have been impacted by COVID-19. Recently, the United States District Court for Maryland decided that it would not make employers liable for alleged negligence because of a lack of safe COVID protocols.

In this case, the plaintiff, Ms. Madden, was a flight attendant for Southwest and was required to attend mandatory in-person training to remain compliant with the Federal Aviation Administration requirements. The training involved groups of at least ten flight attendants at a time and Ms. Madden was required to attend her training in Baltimore Washington International Airport at the height of COVID. Ms. Madden alleges that Southwest failed to implement reasonable health protocols to prevent the spread of COVID, and as a result of Southwest’s negligence, Ms. Madden was exposed to COVID and passed it on to her husband who also contracted COVID and passed away.

For there to be a negligence claim in Maryland, the plaintiff must successfully allege four elements: (1) a duty was owed by the defendant to the injured individual; (2) there was a breach to that duty; (3) there was an actual injury; and (4) that the injury was a direct result of the breach. The Court in its decision considered the first element of whether Southwest owed a duty to Plaintiff’s husband.

The Court also noted that there is a general rule in Maryland that there is no special duty owed for the actions of a third party. Even though there are exceptions to this rule, the Court held that none of the exceptions apply to this case. Therefore, the Court continued to determine whether or not there was a duty owed to the Plaintiff’s husband by the Plaintiff’s employer.

Ultimately the Court held that there was no duty owed to the Plaintiff’s husband even though the Court determined that the facts of the case indicated satisfied more factors in favor of there being a duty owed by Southwest to Mr. Madden. This is because the Court determined that there is no concrete evidence indicating that Southwest’s training was the reason why Mr. and Ms. Madden contracted COVID. There were too many other factors to consider, and the Plaintiff’s assurance is not enough to convince the Court that Southwest’s training was the sole reason Ms. Madden contracted COVID.

Therefore, despite it being foreseeable that the failure to implement health and safety protocols could lead to the exposure of COVID to employees and their families, the Court could not hold that Southwest owed a duty to its employees’ family members. It will be interesting to see if and how this will change as Courts delve into COVID and its impacts.

-Jocelyn Wang, Law Clerk


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