COVID-19 has created a host of uncertainties in every area of modern life. In doing so, it has also given rise to a number of filed or anticipated lawsuits in various areas. Here are a few of the most prominent pending and anticipated cases, plus the expert witnesses that will be necessary to call upon.
PPP Loan Deception Claims
In late April 2020, four class-action lawsuits were filed in California federal court, seeking relief for small business owners whose Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) applications were rejected by multiple banks.
The Paycheck Protection Program is a federal program tasked with distributing an initial $349 billion in emergency funds to US small businesses. Initially, the program was intended to provide low-interest, forgivable loans of up to two and a half times a business’s monthly payroll. However, its funding ran out on April 16, just 13 days after the program was launched.
The lawsuit claims that four major banks involved in approving PPP applications and distributing funds rigged the system to benefit their own bottom lines. Alleged misbehavior includes processing the largest loan amounts first in order to increase banks’ origination fees. This action arguably depleted the fund more quickly, leaving small business owners without recourse.
Expert Witnesses for COVID-19 PPP Loan Deception Cases
In building PPP loan deception cases, financial and certified financial planning experts will be important to consult on the financial landscape of small businesses and the uses of loan programs. A lending expert will also be useful to opine on the process of applying for and securing federal loans.
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus resulted in a number of flights being canceled, sending passengers scrambling for alternative arrangements and seeking refunds for tickets purchased for those canceled flights.
United Airlines, Southwest, and Delta now face class-action lawsuits after the airlines allegedly refused to refund the cost of tickets purchased for canceled flights. According to one lawsuit filed in April 2020 in Georgia, Delta Airlines—headquartered in Atlanta—attempted to offer travel credits rather than a refund, in spite of language in its Contract of Carriage allowing passengers to receive a full refund if Delta canceled a flight.
Expert Witnesses for COVID-19 Airline Lawsuits
It will be critical to collaborate with travel & tourism experts to prepare these class action suits against major airlines, especially those with experience in the commercial airline industry. Travel insurance experts can also add useful perspectives on the standards of cancellations and refunds for the industry.
Event Disruption Claims
Airline ticket purchasers aren’t the only ones seeking refunds for tickets they purchased for an event that will not happen due to COVID-19.
In McMillan v. StubHub, Inc., a class action lawsuit filed in the Western District of Wisconsin, plaintiffs allege that they bought tickets to various events via StubHub. The events were later canceled due to the novel coronavirus. The purchasers say they sought refunds under StubHub’s “Fan Protect” guarantee, only to find that the company had retroactively discontinued the policy.
Consequently, the plaintiffs argue, StubHub falsely advertised its “Fan Protect” guarantee when the tickets were purchased and is now attempting to force the plaintiffs to bear the cost of this unprecedented pandemic.
“Adding insult to injury, Defendants repeatedly claim to be doing this for the benefit and/or convenience of their now-disgruntled customers and refuse to take responsibility for the hardships that they have created,” states the complaint filed in the case.
Expert Witnesses for COVID-19 Event Disruption Cases
Event management experts must be consulted for these cases to understand the mechanics of ticketing and contingency planning for major events. It will be especially helpful to retain experts with experience working for the major ticketing competitors of Stubhub.
Government and Civil Rights Lawsuits
Customers have sought ticket refunds and small businesses have sought loans in response to various orders issued by state governors throughout the US. New orders to slow the spread of COVID-19—commonly known as “stay at home” or “shelter in place”—required many small businesses to close, causing significant business interruptions.
In Schulmerich Bells, LLC, et al. v. Wolf et al., the plaintiffs address one such order directly. The case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in March 2020, alleges that the governor of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health “have seized without compensation the property of businesses and the livelihoods of individuals across the Commonwealth, forcing indefinite closures and widespread layoffs.”
The lawsuit asks the court to declare the governor’s executive orders closing various state businesses unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment takings clause and to order that the state pay “just compensation” to business owners.
Expert Witnesses for COVID-19 Government & Civil Rights Lawsuits
These cases will require consultation with civil rights experts. It will be important to retain experts who can speak on a specific state’s stay at home order in relation to Fifth Amendment rights.
Securities & Privacy Disputes
As shelter in place orders have limited the movement of people in their everyday lives, online communication tools have become ever more vital. One particularly popular tool for video conferencing—used in business, school and personal settings—is Zoom. But Zoom is now up against multiple class actions for privacy risks associated with use of the product.
In related California cases, Drieu v. Zoom Video Communications, Inc. and Brams v. Zoom Video Communications, Inc., the plaintiffs allege that Zoom’s security and privacy measures are inadequate to the task of protecting video calls placed through the service, which may contain sensitive, proprietary or confidential information.
The plaintiffs claim that because Zoom’s data-sharing activity wasn’t apparent to the user, users had no way to express or withhold consent for the service to collect or share their information. They allege that Zoom has violated several securities laws and related statutes, including the California Consumer Privacy Act, the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, and California’s unfair competition laws.
Expert Witnesses for COVID-19 Securities Lawsuits
Privacy experts will be in high demand to opine on Zoom’s security flaws. Specifically, these class action lawsuits will require privacy experts who can speak on the violations of the California Consumer Privacy Act and related privacy legislation. It will also be important to consult software engineering experts on the technical aspects of Zoom’s platform.
Foreclosure and Debt Collection Lawsuits
Shelter in place orders have left millions of Americans on uncertain financial footing. With no job to do, these workers find themselves in a more precarious position with regard to the essentials of life, including food and housing. In response, several cases have been filed in various courts that seek to prevent banks from executing foreclosures, to suspend debt collection, or both.
In Shuff v. Bank of America, filed in the Southern District of West Virginia, the plaintiffs seek an injunction that would temporarily suspend foreclosures. A separate case filed against Bank of America in Maryland, Profiles, Inc. v. Bank of America, seeks an injunction preventing Bank of America from limiting PPP loans to Bank of American customers only.
A third case filed in Minnesota, Oksenendler v. Northstar Education Finance, Inc., alleges that the defendant, a student loan servicing company, committed consumer fraud and breach of contract in its handling of a student loan repayment suspension in the face of COVID-19 changes.
Expert Witnesses for COVID-19 Foreclosure and Debt Collection Cases
Foreclosure and debt collection class actions will need to consult foreclosure and banking experts to establish an understanding of banking and loan repayment practices. These experts can also speak to the precedence— or lack thereof— of suspending payments or foreclosures.
Similar cases are likely to continue to reach the courts, focusing not only on these areas but also on questions regarding education, employment law, product marketing, product labeling, and insurance.
Cruise Ship Industry Claims
Celebrity Cruise crew members filed a class action in the Southern District of Florida alleging that Celebrity Cruises failed to protect them from COVID-19. The claim alleges that rather than quarantining crew members, providing them masks or requiring them to observe social distancing measures, Celebrity allowed them to eat in buffet settings, mandated their participation in shipboard drills, and permitted them to attend crew parties. Hundreds have now tested postive for COVID-19. Plaintiffs estimate that there are more than 10,000 class members.
Expert Witnesses for COVID-19 Cruise Industry Cases
Cruise line experts will be crucial to consult for cruise industry class action suits. They can offer industry knowledge of how viral outbreaks should be handled aboard a cruise ship and where companies, such as Celebrity Cruises, failed to enact protective measures for their crew.