Note: I am not wanting to make this political. Please do not attempt to address political aspects of this situation or rail one way or the other. My question would be exactly the same if the facts of the situation faulted a Democratic senator. Or indeed anyone. The facts of the current situation raise an interesting question that will no doubt become more and more common in the weeks ahead:

Under what circumstances can someone be sued for negligent or reckless transmission of a global pandemic?

What if, in the current situation, I was Mitt Romney? And we don't know yet whether Mitt has gotten infected by Rand, but let's just assume for this question that he has, so we have a concrete example. Surely someone has, even if not him.

*The specific allegation in this situation is that Rand continued to use the Senate Gym and Pool, and also continued to hang out in close quarters with other senators while he was still waiting for his COVID-19 test result to come back. Mitt Romney was one of the people who came into contact with him at this time and is now self-isolating out of an abundance of caution (an abundance of caution that Rand did not demonstrate -- hence reckless disregard for others life). Rand's test does prove that he was infected with COVID-19 during this period after all.

Could I, as Mitt, now sue Rand Paul for negligent and reckless transmission of COVID-19 to me?

Note that Rand denies allegations of reckless or negligent transmission and I do want to fairly point that out, but in actuality the truth of the allegations can only be decided in a court.

So it does seem to me that Mitt could sue Rand in this instance, and a court would determine what Rand's legal liability is?

What limitations are there to keep lawsuits over negligent transmission from themselves becoming a kind of pandemic?

Bonus question, can employers be sued for creating a work environment that promotes transmission by refusing to offer paid sick leave?

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    In your hypothetical scenario, on what are you premising that contagion was caused by Rand Paul and that it was negligent/reckless? Pinpointing the source of contagion is oftentimes not feasible, especially for public figures since they deal with so many people on a daily basis. Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 13:58
  • @IñakiViggers I updated my question to include the specific allegation of Rand's recklessness. Thank you for pointing out the missing link in my argument. Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 14:00
  • @IñakiViggers i agree pinpointing is oftentimes not feasible, but in this situation we know that 1) Rand was actually infected, 2) he did voluntarily hang out with Mitt, as well as use various shared facilities 3) he could have considered the danger to others and not just himself while waiting for test results and decided to self-isolate, but 4) he did not self-isolate. These are all facts that are beyond doubt. It is not known whether Mitt got infected by Rand but a trial could still be held over the recklessness and likelyhood of this being the vector. Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 14:20
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    To prove this with any sort of certainty we would need to know every person who came into contact with Romney, everyone who touched a door handle or any other surface that he then touched and what their test results were at the time. Given the lack of testing equipment I doubt this will be provable. Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 14:48
  • The bonus question ought to be in a separate post, I think, since it is quite different from the main question. Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 14:42

2 Answers 2


Only a person who could prove that he contracted the disease from an individual would have standing to sue for resulting damages. Going to the gym does not exhibit a reckless disgregard for danger, even in the proffered circumstance. It is possible that a jury could find recklessness if a person who knows they have a highly communicable disease does something that is likely to cause transmission of the disease, but that is not the case in the proffered scenario. It is possible but as far as I know untested that in a jurisdiction where travel is forbidden (for medical reasons) that a person who breaks the law by traveling and can be proven to have caused the damage might be held negligently liable (the accused did not break the law, however).

Employers cannot be sued for not giving paid sick leave, at least until the state mandates that they do.

  • As general hygiene gym users should be wiping down equipment after (and probably before) use anyway. Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 16:46
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    The standard for negligence is not recklessness - it’s failing to comply with the warranted standard of care.
    – Dale M
    Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 18:58
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    Sequencing of the virus from both patients could prove that Mitt caught it from Rand, though with the possibility of an intermediate host.
    – Dave
    Commented Mar 31, 2020 at 16:21
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    @grovkin not at all. You can be negligent without knowledge or awareness that the person you damaged exists, or that you owe then a duty of care or what it is you need to do to discharge that duty. For example, if I absent-mindedly and without malice accidentally leave a loose brick on my roof and that brick falls and injures an unknown visitor to my home then I am negligent because a reasonable person would not do what I did.
    – Dale M
    Commented Apr 1, 2020 at 21:10
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    And a downvote for the the overall answer, which misunderstands standing doctrine; confuses negligence with recklessness; and strangely suggests that a person "who breaks the law" "did not break the law."
    – bdb484
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 16:24

Considering that the families of those who died during the 911 terrorist attacks, who tried to sue for damages, were struck down in court by the federally imposed "terrorist act".

  • Perhaps, there will be another federally imposed "pandemic act" in this case.

  • Cases of knowingly transmitting HIV also come to mind.

  • It appears that we may have to go as far back as Typhoid Mary/John

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    This answer is not helpful because it doesn't cite to any actual law or discuss any general principles of law.
    – bdb484
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 16:13
  • This is not legal advice.
    – BLM
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 16:16
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    No one expects it to be; we just generally expect answers to be rooted in actual law. I saw that you are new here and just wanted to offer an explanation for why your answer was downvoted.
    – bdb484
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 16:18
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    Thank you for the explanation. I'm just suggesting that the laws related to these kinds of situations are being written as we speak, and may follow the president set during the aftermath of 911.
    – BLM
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 16:28
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    That makes perfect sense. I think you'll get better results if you also link to the cases that you're talking about, and maybe make more explicit comparisons of how they answer the OP's question.
    – bdb484
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 16:33

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