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Fact Sheet COVID-19Emergency Legal Preparedness and Response

Legal Liability for Acts of “COVID Denialism”

May 24, 2022

Overview

From the inception of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, federal, state, tribal, and local governments have taken different approaches to protect the public’s health. While many governmental policies and approaches aim to protect individuals from COVID-related harms, some responses directly contravene known, efficacious interventions or scientific findings that promote positive public health outcomes. Shunning mask and vaccine mandates/passports, forgoing social distancing, re-opening rapidly following expiration/rescission of stay-at-home orders, and other actions framed in the aura of “COVID-19 denialism” can contribute directly to increased infections, excess morbidity, and deaths.

To this end, government actors or entities supporting or furthering acts of COVID denialism resulting in harms to specific individuals or the public may be liable in manifold ways. Potential avenues for liability may include federal sanctions, cuts, or take-overs; preemptive efforts; § 1983 actions; parens patriae suits; and civil litigation. In an attempt to forego potential liability risks, select states have even proposed legislation to limit liability for government actors. This fact sheet examines these liability issues based on current or potential legal trends.

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