Modern life of planes, trains and automobiles brings people together in close physical proximity like never before. Once upon a time, and actually not that long ago in human history, most people never saw anyone else outside of their own village or tribe. Those days are gone, and now we frequently are exposed to people from other cities, states, and countries. That is all well and good for the most part in terms of business and pleasure, except, of course, when it comes to the transmission of communicable diseases.
Just a couple months ago, most Americans had not even heard of the coronavirus which began in China and then started to spread. Now we are bombarded 24/7 with news, facts and fiction about the virus on television, radio, news sites, social media, podcasts and in everyday conversation. We are told that the coronavirus is highly contagious, is spreading exponentially, is a pandemic, could be with us for quite some time, and poses grave health dangers for at risk segments of populations.
Stock markets have been rattled, trending downward, as global business has been impacted by slowdowns in certain sectors. Travel plans are being cancelled, for work and vacation. Some schools and have been closed and a variety of public events have been cancelled. The impetus has been to prevent people from coming together in an effort not to further the spread of the coronavirus.
Obviously, all of this has legal implications. For example, there is the potential in some instances and in actuality in others that contractual requirements cannot be fulfilled based on all of these changed circumstances. When contractual requirements are not met, there can be demands and litigation relating to failures to perform. And those who argue they cannot perform may defend that they are excused under the force majeure doctrine with respect to circumstances beyond their control.
Additionally, there is the prospect that to the extent people are required to come together in person and they then get sick, those people later may assert that those entities have liability for damages for having required their in-person attendance. It is not clear how meritorious such arguments would be, and plainly it would depend on the circumstances. But still, we are just seeing the start of potential legal arguments relating to issues surrounding the coronavirus.
While modern life brings us together, which enables a disease like coronavirus to spread more quickly and widely, modern life also has brought us the Internet, which can be advantageous with respect to the coronavirus.
Many aspects of work can be performed remotely, so that workers do not need to expose themselves to others on mass transit or in the workplace. Many work communications can take place via email. Documents can be shared back and forth online. And video conferencing is easy and readily available.
Furthermore, rather than having to venture out into crowded supermarkets and shopping malls, many products can be ordered online to be delivered right to our homes. These products can include necessary household staples, as well as products that can help with medical issues and hygiene during this uncertain time.
Moreover, information is available on our phones, laptops, tablets and home desktop computers that can provide medical updates and alerts. Of course, trusted sites and sources should be consulted, like those of the CDC and state and local health authorities.
Telemedicine can be quite useful in terms of addressing health concerns and issues without the need to go to a medical facility where there can be exposure to other patients. This can be valuable when there is not an emergency or serious medical problem that requires direct, in-person care.
To the extent that there is concern about attending public gatherings for entertainment, there is practically an infinite of amount of options as far as streaming content. Netflix obviously comes to mind as just one option.
And while we value seeing our loved ones in person, if it does not feel advisable to visit in person in a given instance, video chatting over FaceTime or Skype is the next thing to being there.
This blog is not suggesting when individuals should go out or stay in. Nor is this blog suggesting any specific medical or other advice. Rather, this blog simply is pointing out that while modern life bring benefits from mass transportation, it also brings the means for more rapid spread of disease; and in that context, the Internet can be a mitigating factor.
Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod’s columns, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual partners.