California Employer Dodges Wife’s Suit Over Husband’s COVID-19

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Does an employer have a duty to protect an employee’s spouse from becoming infected with COVID-19?

No, a California federal court recently held, dismissing a lawsuit filed by Corby Kuciemba alleging that her husband, Robert, became infected with COVID-19 while at work and subsequently transmitted the disease to her, making her husband’s employer, Victory Woodworks, liable.

Victory moved to dismiss Corby’s complaint, arguing that the company’s duties were limited to Robert.

In an order granting the motion to dismiss Corby’s amended complaint without further leave to amend, U.S. District Judge Maxine M. Chesney agreed.

To the extent that Corby’s claims were based on allegations that she contracted COVID-19 “through direct contact” with Robert, her claims were barred by the exclusive remedy provisions of California’s workers’ compensation statutes, the court said.

As for her allegations that she contracted the disease indirectly “through fomites such as [Robert’s] clothing,” those claims were dismissed for failure to plead a plausible claim.

Finally, Judge Chesney tossed any remaining claims.

“To the extent [Corby’s] claims are neither barred by statute nor deemed insufficiently pleaded, such claims are subject to dismissal for the reason that [Victory’s] duty to provide a safe workplace to its employees does not extend to nonemployees who, like Corby Kuciemba, contract a viral infection away from those premises,” she wrote.

To read the order in Kuciemba v. Victory Woodworks, Inc., click here.

Why it matters: In a positive ruling for employers, the court agreed with Victory that extending an employer’s duty to provide a safe workplace to nonemployees who contract a viral infection off premises would eliminate a defined boundary on an employer’s liability.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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