We are witnessing the financial and personal repercussions of the spread of the corona virus that originated in Wuhan. It seems that the virus started spreading possibly as early as mid-November with the Chinese government trying to hide/downplay/minimize the issue at hand. Given the Chinese government failure to:

  1. Prevent the sale of raw animal meat and enforce the necessary sanitary measures to avoid human contact with raw meat.
  2. Allowing farming and selling of wild animals, which was than corrected later by issuing a law banning such sales, thus admitting the problem.
  3. Properly contain the spread in Wuhan by acknowledging the alarm calls of the local doctors and first signs that an unknown strain of corona virus was circulating.

Is it possible for governments and private companies, I imagine only the most powerful ones, to sue the Chinese government to seek financial compensation for the damages occurred worlwide?

I imagine that if a private company would accidentally leak a virus outside a lab, such company would be liable for all damages, why is a government not liable for any damage in this case? Can, theoretically, Chinese or citizens from other countries sue the Chinese government for the loss of loved ones?

  • 3
    What court would have jurisdiction over such a suit? Companies in China can't sue their own government and China isn't likely to recognize another countries power to enforce a civil suit...
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 15:28
  • “...thus admitting the problem...” That seems typically American and unlikely to fly in any but the lowest courts.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 16:49
  • 1
    re: "thus admitting the problem" - mitigating and making changes to reduce future harm upon an instance of harm is a good thing and is to be encouraged. And is not penalized in law - "Federal Rule 407. Subsequent Remedial Measures When measures are taken that would have made an earlier injury or harm less likely to occur, evidence of the subsequent measures is not admissible to prove: negligence; culpable conduct; a defect in a product or its design; or a need for a warning or instruction." Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 17:47
  • Regarding the first two points: Is there any jurisdiction in the world that prevents the sale of raw animal meat? How does one prepare meat-based food if humans are not allowed to come into contact with raw meat? How does singling out wild animals used for food address the problem (some viruses come from domesticated animals; others come from non-food animals)?
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 18:27
  • @phoog good point I should have been more detailed. The Wuhan market sells freshly butchered meat which is not refrigerated, also called 'warm' meat. This is one of the possible culprit that caused the transmission. Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 18:31

1 Answer 1


The main problem is that there is no court with authority to hear this case outside of China. It may be futile to sue in US courts, since China will not enforce US judgments. You can sue a Chinese company in Chinese court, under their Civil Procedure Law, but this pertains to contract breach. The question is whether there is any law under which the government of China can be sued for negligence – it is unlikely that that is possible (perhaps there is an expert in Chinese law here who can address that issue).

This lawsuit is filed in US courts. It is based on the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. Supposing that this lawsuit is successful in US courts, then the question is what enforcement actions are possible. Since the defendants are various governments and government agencies in China, execution of the judgment would have to be against those defendants – you can't seize the assets of every person with some connection to China. But given the nature of the Chinese government, it is possible that US courts could find that the assets of Chinese companies are effectively government assets.

The short answer is, in fact a lawsuit has been filed, and I expect more. I also don't expect them to succeed in the long run.

  • Interesting, why would they be pursuing this if it has almost no chance of succeeding? Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 16:36
  • @HermanToothrot some people like to bet on long odds.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 18:30
  • If they get past summary judgement and dismissal, they can make discovery demands on China that China may not be willing to comply with and end up with some judgement in their favor, or actually get some information from the government that they want. As well, sometimes the message of filing the case is worth the cost of losing to the plaintiff. Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 18:40
  • China does have a lot of wealth spread throughout the world. Many countries are in indebted to China. While I doubt any court ruling outside China has any effect on China, a measure like this does signal to the world that this is not ok and may be used as a first precedence to cancel some some or all of the debt, disrupting China's influence. It's looks more to me like a political play than anything else but there is some merit to it. Commented Apr 25, 2020 at 6:34

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