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They were behind the wheel driving a car they lost control of. When they hit the first person (patient zero, suspected to be a lab tech) by accident, they panicked. After the first person was infected, it is believed they destroyed evidence, tampered with witnesses, lied to authorities and refused outside help.
As with all hit and runs, if the people responsible admitted their negligence, their liability would be defined and limited and others would be saved from future harm. But when they fled the scene, their liability escalated beyond mere negligence or even gross negligence. Now, they are liable for criminal acts that flow from the first incident.
China was negligent, at least, and grossly negligent, at worst, in the way it initially handled the coronavirus outbreak. Fox News is reporting that multiple sources believe the virus began in a lab in Wuhan and when the situation got out of control, the cover-up began.
Ordinary negligence is when a person fails to use reasonable care, resulting in damage or injury to another. Gross negligence is defined as a conscious and voluntary disregard of the need to use reasonable care, which is likely to cause foreseeable grave injury or harm to persons or property or both.
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Looking at the law, the evidence so far and using the standards of common practices in the workplace and common sense – China was, in my opinion, grossly negligent in the operation of their Wuhan laboratory.
China clearly knew of the dangers of the virus being studied yet they apparently allowed it to escape the lab and get to the local population, where it spread. The unintentional release of the virus at that moment was an act of “negligence per se” (meaning that the actors are strictly liable because their actions are deemed negligent as a matter of law). That is to say, the release of the virus cannot happen without negligence. When the coronavirus was unintentionally released to the public, their civil liability attached. Their actions thereafter morphed into criminal acts and behavior.
China had a duty to warn not only its own people of the public release of coronavirus, but they also had an obligation to warn the world because they knew the immediate harm involved. The “duty to warn” is a legal obligation – when individuals put someone in harm’s way, they have the duty to warn that person so they can avoid the harm or minimize the effects. A failure to warn comes at the price of the harm caused to innocents.
China also had a “duty to rescue” those they put in harm's way. The law provides that those who put someone in harm’s way can be held liable for the failure to rescue any individuals harmed as a result of the peril created.
If, after an investigation, it is determined that China essentially fled the scene, covered up and destroyed evidence, failed to warn the world of the coming death and destruction, failed to rescue and possibly even killed material witnesses to their crimes, they are liable for criminal penalties as well as civil ones.
More innocents have been killed in this outbreak than have died in many wars. The rebuilding of our economy will take years and the emotional and human toll will never be forgotten or forgiven.
China must be brought to justice. The death and misery it caused to citizens of the world, in addition to the economic damages that have flowed from the coronavirus, cannot go unanswered.