There are more than 7-million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States alone and more than 35-million worldwide. People are moving through their days, mindful of mandates set up by the government while taking care to protect themselves and loved ones. However, some individuals don’t. Once they test positive, they choose not to use caution and isolate. Instead, they go out in public, exposing others to the deadly virus.
News outlets have documented multiple incidents, including a woman in Carrollton, Texas, who recorded herself walking through Walmart, claiming she wanted to infect others with coronavirus. A student in Attleboro, Massachusetts, who tested positive with COVID-19 on a Friday, still went to school the following Monday. And, a couple in Key West who was diagnosed with the virus refused to stay home.
There are legal consequences for all these actions.
Charges of terrorism and COVID-19
In the Carrollton, Texas case, Lorraine Maradiaga posted a series of videos on her social media account and wound up charged with making terrorist threats. Maradiaga was seen in one video driving through a COVID-19 test site where a nurse told her to quarantine at home while waiting for the results. In a follow-up video, she is seen walking through a Walmart while speaking on camera, stating she wanted to infect everyone with coronavirus.
Maradiaga’s arrest came on the heels of a decision made by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) to consider intentionally spreading COVID-19 a terrorist act. In a memo dated March 24, Jeffrey Rosen, deputy attorney general for the DOJ, told law enforcement across the country, “Because Coronavirus appears to meet the statutory definition of a ‘biological agent’… such acts potentially could implicate the Nation’s terrorism-related statutes.”
Maradiaga was charged with making terroristic threats, a third-degree felony, and a violation of the Texas penal code (Sec. 22.07). After her arrest, the 18-year-old told police she did not have coronavirus. However, after her bond was set at $20,000, the authorities still ordered her to quarantine for 21 days.
Criminal vs. Civil Cases
In the Massachusetts case, because the student went to school “knowingly” with COVID-19, 30 other students had to quarantine, forcing them to miss in-person classes for almost the entire first month of the school year.
The legal ramifications for the student and the parents include several possibilities. Although unlikely, the case could head for criminal court. It could consist of a charge of reckless endangerment (putting people in danger of death or serious injury) or assault and battery (inflicting or attempting to inflict bodily injury on another person).
A negligence lawsuit in civil court is more likely. Massive COVID-19 exposure is costly, including the clean-up (disinfecting the school), adjustments to the class schedules and learning platforms, and additional COVID-19 testing for other students.
In such a lawsuit, the plaintiff would need to show the defendant was negligent by proving two things – he or she had COVID-19 and went to school anyway, causing harm (infection), and that there was a link between that misconduct and the harm.
In Massachusetts, the evidence has already been put on record that the student’s family knew of the diagnosis. However, in most instances, a lawsuit involving an infectious disease is not easy to prove – especially in a pandemic. It is often difficult to show one individual above all others was the person to cause an infectious spread.
Stay home or stay in jail
In Florida, a man and woman were at home when local law enforcement came to their door and arrested them for violating quarantine. Key West officials alleged the couple repeatedly ignored the orders to self-isolate after being diagnosed with the virus. Frustrated neighbors, who knew the pair were ill, recorded video of them as they ran errands, shopped for groceries, conversed with neighbors, and even went to a car wash.
They were charged with two second-degree misdemeanors, including breaking the quarantine during a public health outbreak and violating emergency management. In news reports, the city manager of Key West acknowledged the conflicting views being heard across the country on how to manage public health during the pandemic. However, he stressed, “It’s a national debate up until the health department tells you to quarantine.’’
If you are unsure of whether or not to quarantine or isolate when dealing with COVID-19, the CDC has some guidelines you can follow, which include
- People with COVID-19 should be isolated for at least ten days after symptom onset and until 24 hours after their fever subsides without the use of fever-reducing medications.
- People exposed to someone with COVID-19 should stay home for 14 days after your last contact with a person who has COVID-19. Watch for fever (100.4 F), cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms. If possible, stay away from others, especially people who are at higher risk of getting sick.
At the Cochran Firm Texas, we care about your health and safety. If you have questions or would like to discuss possible legal options in regards to a COVID-19 exposure, feel free to contact us at 1800 THE FIRM (1-800-843-3476) or now via our online chat.
Nicole oversees the transaction and governmental entities practice at The Cochran Firm Texas. She also participates in the firm’s litigation group. Nicole is an industry expert in Texas real estate law and public housing law. She believes that everyone should have equal access to quality legal representation. Nicole received her undergraduate degree in accounting from Clemson University in 1992 and her Juris Doctorate degree from Sothern Methodist University School of Law in 1996. When not at work, Nicole devotes time to her family, public service and her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. If she is not spending time with her husband, Larry, she is supporting her three children’s collegiate activities and endeavors.