By: Attorney Travis Dunn
One potentially interesting avenue of litigation concerning the COVID-19 pandemic are rulings concerning requests for injunctive relief, rather than damages. These are requests for the court to order a party to take a specific action, or refrain from doing something, in order to prevent further losses by the parties who brought the suit. These types of remedies are particularly relevant in the context of a situation, like an employment situation, where there is imminent danger presented to the parties.
This is the case in Taynarvis Massey et al. v. McDonald’s Corp. et al., case number 2020CH04247, in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Brought by five McDonald’s workers and their families, this proposed class action suit alleges that the McDonald’s restaurants where they worked have insufficiently protected their employees from the COVID-19 virus, forcing them to work in close quarters and not providing sufficient protective equipment. The novel aspect of this suit is that the suit was brought pursuant to a claim of a public nuisance, a specific claim that is more commonly used for things like noxious hog farms or illegal gambling houses. The law can, however, also apply to infectious diseases emanating from or being exacerbated by specific sources. The plaintiffs’ claim stems from instances where stores did not provide sanitizer, criticized employees for using too many gloves, and told employees that social distancing was not necessary.
The immediate injunctive relief requested in this case by the Plaintiffs, then, is for the court to order McDonald’s to take further actions to prevent their employees from contracting and spreading COVID-19 amongst themselves, such as mandating masks and safety procedures. McDonald’s has argued that they, as a company, have taken significant steps to equip their employees with protective equipment and to give them notices about recommendation about social distancing, handwashing, and disease safety. They further argue that the court should not step into a role of mandating health and safety standards, a role, they argue, more properly served by regulatory agencies with specific expertise. Finally, they argue that the specific instances in the complaint are not representative of their stores, and that the fast-moving nature of the COVID-19 public health recommendations mean that the alleged safety violations, which occurred in March, are not relevant to the pending request for an injunction now.
It should be noted that, while the request for injunctive relief is currently pending with the court, even a negative decision against the Plaintiffs will not be the end of the case. That’s the other thing about injunctions—it is a rare case where they are the sole purpose of a suit. Even if the plaintiffs cannot convince a judge to order McDonald’s to beef up their safety procedures, the employees and their families will still be requesting damages for the class of workers harmed by the alleged public nuisance.