ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Before the coronavirus outbreak, Saundra Andringa-Meuer was a healthy 61-year-old mother of six who never smoked or drank alcohol. Then she became seriously ill with the disease after traveling from her Wisconsin home to help her son move from college in Connecticut.
She was hospitalized in March, ending up in a coma and on a ventilator for 14 days. Doctors told her family she had a slim chance to live. When she emerged, she was told she was the sickest COVID-19 patient they had seen survive.
Now Andringa-Meuer has joined with dozens of other American virus patients and some U.S. businesses in taking a new legal step: They are attempting to sue China over the spread of the virus, which has killed at least 75,000 people in the United States.
“I do feel that they hid it from the world and from Americans," she said. "I don’t feel we had to have the loss of life. I don’t think we had to have the economy shut down. It disrupted all of American lives. I do believe we need to right some of these wrongs.”
So far, at least nine lawsuits have been filed in the U.S. against China claiming authorities there did not do enough to corral the virus initially, tried to hide what was happening in the outbreak center of Wuhan and sought to conceal their actions and what they knew.
Eight of the lawsuits are potential class actions that would represent thousands of people and businesses. One was filed by the attorney general of Missouri, which is so far the only state to take legal action against China.
The cases face several hurdles under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which states that foreign governments cannot be sued in the U.S. unless certain exceptions are met. And those are not easy to prove, experts say.
“We think it’s going to be an uphill battle for them to ultimately take advantage of those exceptions," said Robert Boone, an attorney in Los Angeles who specializes in class action cases.