Two attorneys are making an argument that some experts have called “crazy”: that the Chinese Communist Party can be sued separately from the Chinese government.
Several dozen Americans have filed lawsuits against China, accusing the country of harming the United States by covering up its coronavirus outbreak.
According to The Associated Press, the plaintiffs have all been affected by the virus in a variety of ways: some are suing on behalf of relatives who died from coronavirus, others are suing following their own recovery. They are joined by a handful of businesses, which have suffered due to shelter-in-place orders and social distancing requirements.
One of the women suing China—named by the A.P. as Saundra Adringa-Meuer—contracted coronavirus in March. Adringa-Meuer, in her early sixties, never smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol; but the infection hit her particularly hard. She spent 14 days on a ventilator with only a slim prospect of recovery.
But Adringa-Meuer did recover, somewhat to the surprise of her doctors—The Associated Press recounts how her medical team had never seen a coronavirus patient as suck as her live until discharge.
To date, though, novel coronavirus killed 80,000 people in the United States alone. Adringa-Meuer, along with many of her co-plaintiffs, charges that China should shoulder some responsibility for its alleged role in spreading the virus.
“I do feel that they hid it from the world and from Americans,” Adringa-Meuer said. “I don’t’ feel we had to have the loss of life. I don’t think we had to have the economy shut down. It disrupted all of American lives. I do believe we need t right some of these wrongs.”
Adringa-Meuer isn’t alone, either—The Associated Press says her lawsuit is among nine accusing the People’s Republic of China of not doing enough to contain coronavirus, then attempting to downplay its severity in Wuhan.
Flight attendant Jessica Merritt, who is participating in the same suit as Adringa-Meuer, shared her co-plaintiff’s doubts about China’s transparency.
“China could have been a lot more open and forthcoming,” said Merritt, who, at 30, contracted coronavirus on an overseas trip to Southeast Asia. “My life has been severely disrupted by this virus in every way imaginable.”
Merritt’s claim, hinges on an unproven theory: that novel coronavirus was created in a virology laboratory in Wuhan. Somehow, at some time, the virus escaped into the “wild,” contaminating produce in Chinese “wet markets.” The infection then adapted to human hosts, eventually making its way, through transmission an travel, into the United States.
Meritt, says The Miami Herald, is one of many South Florida residents who have joined a class against China.
Eight of the nine total lawsuits, notes the A.P., are prospective class actions. If approved, each could represent thousands of people and businesses. And one of the suits was, in fact, filed by Missouri’s attorney general—the first complaint of its kind brought by an elected U.S. official against the Chinese government.
However, suing the People’s Republic of China will not be an easy feat. Chinese companies and government-affiliated in the contractors have, in the past, cooperated with U.S. courts and paid settlements to American petitioners.
But suing the Chinese government is difficult, as it is protected from most attempts at litigation by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
“We think it’s going to be an uphill battle for them to ultimately take advantage of those exceptions” in the act, said L.A.-based attorney Robert Boone.
Nevertheless, attorneys Matthew Moore and Jeremy Alters—whose South Florida class action covers Adringa-Meuer and Merritt—believe they can circumvent the FSIA by targeting the Chinese Community Party, a political entity nominally separate from the country’s government.
“They have their own assets. They are recognized as an independent organization. We are going to argue they are not a part of the government,” Moore said. “There has been personal injury that happened in the United States.”
Alters suggested that China may be persuaded to pay damages by threats of economic sanction.
“They’re going to have to pay,” he said. “We can say, ‘We’re not going to do business with you anymore.’ When you hit them in the GDP, it hurts.”