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Wrongful Death Lawsuits in the Wake of COVID-19

Several major “essential business” employers, including Walmart and Tyson, have been served with wrongful death lawsuits in relation to COVID-19. As many Ohio employees begin to return to work, employers should be prudent in following workplace safety practices.

Walmart. In early April, a Walmart retail employee’s family filed a lawsuit against Walmart in Cook County, Illinois (Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois Case No. 2020L003938) following the employee’s death after contracting COVID-19. The lawsuit filed by the employee’s family accuses Walmart of negligence and wrongful death in violation of Illinois law. The Complaint alleges that Walmart did not follow guidelines issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Labor for maintaining safe workplaces. It is alleged, among other things, that Walmart failed to enforce social distancing, properly cleanse and sanitize, provide PPE including masks, latex gloves, or antibacterial wipes to employees, and further failed to send COVID-19 exposed employees home until cleared by a medical professional.

Tyson. In May, a Tyson employee’s family filed a lawsuit against Tyson in the Northern District of Texas (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas Case No. 2:20-cv-00125-Z) after the employee suffered a work-related injury, contracted COVID-19, and died. The lawsuit filed by the family accuses Tyson of failing to provide employees with appropriate personal equipment, and further alleging that “a grossly disproportionate number of Tyson employees have contracted COVID-19, and have died, compared to the population as a whole.” The lawsuit was later voluntarily dismissed by the employee’s family on June 5, 2020.

As employees continue to return to work, employers should focus on preventative measures to keep employees safe and healthy to avoid having to defend against any personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits. Some of the best practices related to workplace safety concerning COVID-19 include:

  1. Following the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Businesses, including best practices for cleaning and disinfecting areas in the workplace, social distancing, and quarantining employees who have confirmed their exposure to COVID-19.
  2. If and when an employee has a confirmed case of COVID-19, send the employee home preferably until they are released by a medical professional, or at least until they are able to meet the requirements for ending home isolation.
  3. If and when an employee has a confirmed case of COVID-19, work to quickly determine all other employees and/or third parties who might have been exposed to the COVID-19 positive employee. The CDC Contact Tracing Guidelines provide that in order to best determine other employees who were at highest risk to COVID-19 exposure, employers should ask the following question: Who worked within 6 feet of the sick employee, for 15 minutes or more, within the 48 hours prior to the sick employee showing symptoms? This has been referred to as the “6-15-48” Rule. Once identified, the CDC recommends that 6-15-48 employees of non-critical business self-quarantine for 14 days after their last potential exposure, maintain social distance, and self-monitor symptoms.
  4. Stay apprised on the changes and updates issued by the CDC and share with your employees. Educating and engaging employees is key. Continue to remind employees of COVID-19 symptoms and urge them to seek medical attention if COVID-19 symptoms appear. For employees who are isolated, the employer should check in with the employee at least once a week.
  5. If there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the workplace, inform employees immediately. Although there is no case law requiring employers to inform employees of confirmed cases, erring on the side of transparency will help best conform with OSHA’s general duty clause, which requires employers to maintain a safe work environment.

For questions, or more information, please contact your primary BMD attorney.

Explosive Growth in Pot of Gold Opportunity for Bank (and Other) Cannabis Lenders Driving Erosion of the Barriers

Our original article on bank lending to the cannabis industry anticipated that the convergence of interest between banks and the cannabis industry would draw more and larger banks to the industry. Banks were awash in liquidity with limited deployment options, while bankable cannabis businesses had rapidly growing needs for more and lower cost credit. Since then, the pot of gold opportunity for banks to lend into the cannabis industry has grown exponentially due to a combination of market constraints on equity causing a dramatic shift to debt and the ever-increasing capital needs of one of the country’s fastest growing industries. At the same time, hurdles to entry of new banks are being systematically cleared as the yellow brick road to the cannabis industry’s access to the financial markets is being paved, brick by brick, by the progressively increasing number and size of banks that are now entering the market.

2021 EEOC Charge Statistics: Retaliation & Impact of Remote Work

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its detailed information on workplace discrimination charges it received in 2021. Unsurprisingly, for the second year in a row, the total number of charges decreased as COVID-19 either shut down workplaces or disconnected employees from each other. In 2021, the agency received a total of approximately 61,000 workplace discrimination charges - the fewest in 25 years by a wide margin. For reference, the agency received over 67,000 charges in 2020, and averaged almost 90,000 charges per year over the previous 10 years.

Ohio’s Managed Care Overhaul Delayed – New Implementation Timeline

At the direction of Governor Mike DeWine, the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) launched the Medicaid Managed Care Procurement process in 2019. ODM’s stated vision for the procurement was to focus on people and not just the business of managed care. This is the first structural change to Ohio’s managed care system since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) approval of Ohio’s Medicaid program in 2005. Initially, all of the new managed care programs were supposed to be implemented starting on July 1, 2022. However, ODM Director Maureen Corcoran recently confirmed that this date will be pushed back for several managed care-related programs.

Laboratory Specimen Collection Arrangements with Contract Hospitals - OIG Advisory Opinion 22-09

On April 28, 2022, the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) published an Advisory Opinion[1] in which it evaluated a proposed arrangement where a network of clinical laboratories (the “Requestor”) would compensate hospitals (each a “Contract Hospital”) for specimen collection, processing, and handling services (“Collection Services”) for laboratory tests furnished by the Requestor (the “Proposed Arrangement”). The OIG concluded that the Proposed Arrangement would generate prohibited remuneration under the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”) if the requisite intent were present. This is due to both the possibility that the proposed per-patient-encounter fee would be used to induce or reward referrals to Requestor and the associated risk of improperly steering patients to Requestor.

Property Owner Protection from Tax Valuation Challenges

New legislation provides significant new protections for commercial property owners against challenges to valuation primarily by local school boards and prohibiting side agreements to avoid tax valuation changes. The Ohio Legislature has approved House Bill 126 which will go into effect July 2022 but will effectively apply to the 2023 tax valuation year.