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Missouri Files Personal Injury Lawsuit Against China Over COVID-19 Pandemic

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Missouri Attorney General, Eric Schmitt, announced last month that the state is suing the Chinese government and a number of its major institutions, alleging negligence in the country’s role in the coronavirus pandemic.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. It contends that the virus triggered a pandemic as a direct result of actions taken by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s regime. According to numbers provided by Johns Hopkins University, at least 6,105 people have been confirmed to have the virus in Missouri, and at least 229 have died.

The Attorney General’s Office issued a statement declaring that there have been multiple class action suits filed against China related to the pandemic, but Missouri represents the first state to bring legal action.

According to the complaint, “During the critical weeks of the initial outbreak, Chinese authorities deceived the public, suppressed crucial information, arrested whistleblowers, denied human-to-human transmission in the face of mounting evidence, destroyed critical medical research, permitted millions of people to be exposed to the virus, and even hoarded personal protective equipment—thus causing a global pandemic that was unnecessary and preventable,”

The suit seeks unspecified compensation related to “the enormous loss of life, human suffering, and economic turmoil experienced by all Missourians from the COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted the entire world.”

The unique personal injury suit faces a challenging battle given that China is protected by sovereign immunity.

However, the attorney general’s complaint cites two exceptions to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which he argues should allow the case to proceed. The exceptions pertain to commercial activity in the U.S. and “for personal injury or death, or damage to or loss of property, occurring in the United States and caused by the tortious act or omission of that foreign state.”

Furthermore, the complaint alleges that, “While the Chinese medical community had indications of human-to-human transmission of the virus, they did not inform the World Health Organization when they first reported the outbreak.” Additionally, the complaint claims that, “Chinese leaders did little to curb spread of the virus, still allowing thousands of people to travel to and out of Wuhan.”

“In mid-January, on or around January 16, despite knowing the risks of doing so, Wuhan leaders hosted a potluck dinner for 40,000 residents, increasing the potential spread of the virus,” the complaint states. “Defendants allowed these massive public gatherings and massive exodus from Wuhan despite knowing the risks of COVID-19, including the risk of human-to-human transmission.”

The suit also claims that, “Before the pandemic, Missouri had one of its lowest unemployment rates of the past decade, but on information and belief, Missouri’s unemployment rate is now the highest it has been since the Great Depression. Responding to the pandemic has required shutting down businesses, disrupting ordinary production and trade, and dislocating workers.”

The Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., has yet to respond to Missouri’s lawsuit.