Why China will likely avoid liability in spread of coronavirus pandemic

Even with a legislative fix, China is unlikely to make people or information freely available and, even if it was found to be liable, we are back to what Stalin said. There is corollary in tort law for personal injuries in causation theory. Courts tend to cut off liability when causation gets too attenuated. In cases such as James Ryan versus New York Central Railroad, courts cut off liability for spreading fires by limiting it to natural direct damage rather than the ultimate damage. Courts ruled that spreading fires is caused by many reasons. Courts could also balk at liability for millions of cases, tens of thousands of deaths, and trillions of dollars in losses. They could rule that the outbreak was due to negligent decisions by countries.

Some of us would welcome an evidentiary discovery into the origin of the coronavirus. But Democrats and Republicans appear wedded to political narratives for their advantage. With questions about financial support for the lab by the Obama administration and allegations over a slow response by the Trump administration, we may have another farcical commission or investigation in which each party appoints loyalists to protect its interests. The 9/11 commission skillfully avoided holding anyone responsible despite negligent acts by government officials. However, litigation means building a provable case rather than maintaining a narrative. The brutal fact is that, in politics as in war, tens of thousands of deaths can just be a statistic. For some politicians, the real tragedy is who ends up with the blame.

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