Municipalities and hospitals in northern Italy are bracing for a slew of lawsuits from families of coronavirus victims demanding compensation for alleged treatment errors, negligence and misinformation.
Businesses disrupted by coronavirus lockdowns imposed by national and local governments are also mulling filing legal claims for alleged failures to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.
Hundreds of relatives of coronavirus victims in Lombardy, the hardest-hit region in Italy and the country’s economic powerhouse, blame what they say was an inadequate response by authorities to a pandemic that has killed nearly 30,000 people in the country.
Lombardy’s governor, Attilio Fontana, a member of the populist Northern League Party, says the criticism of the handling of the virus is unfair and misdirected. He blames the national government in Rome for mistakes and for not locking down sooner.
“They have accused me of everything, but I am at peace with my conscience,” he said recently.
But familial anger is running deep and a clamor is growing for compensation and accountability — especially from relatives who say their loved ones contracted COVID-19 when they were admitted to the hospital for other reasons.
Anna Cherchi, from the town of Vigevano, southwest of Milan, poured out her grief Thursday on Facebook. Her mother died in a hospital last month, and Cherchi was prevented from seeing her. On May 7, her mother stopped eating — more than a month after being admitted for reasons unrelated to COVID-19.
On the phone, “I hear only mom shouting my name,” Cherchi wrote. A few days later, her mother tested positive for the coronavirus. The next day, she was dead.
“They will not get away with it,” Cherchi wrote. “EXCUSE THE VENT. ... THIS IS THE STORY OF MY MOTHER. … They will pay dearly ... ALL!!"
Cherchi, like hundreds of other grieving Lombards, is backing the efforts of a Facebook group set up by Luca Fusco, whose father died of COVID-19 in the town of Bergamo, a coronavirus hot spot.
The group, “NOI Denuncermo” (We Will Report), is gathering testimonies from relatives and health workers and has more than 50,000 members. Fusco's son, Stefano, said, “The government has blood on its hands, and I don’t know how they can sleep at night.”
Marina Benedetta Burlando, a member of NOI Denuncermo, said, “Our loved ones deserve the truth!”
Her mother died May 1, and the only memory she has of her passing is “a video call made by a nurse” showing her mother’s “lost face.” Burlando added, “No hugs, no caresses. Every day, I am a praying for her and thinking about her.”
Diego Federici, 35, of Bergamo, lost both of his parents. They died within four days of each other in April. He has demanded to know why his father wasn’t transferred from a general ward to intensive care, and why his mother was not intubated.
The legal actions from grieving relatives will likely clog up the courts and take years to reach final rulings, lawyers say. The relatives are also likely to be joined on court dockets by legal claims filed by businesses. Among the business complaints is that lockdown restrictions were not uniformly enforced, with some rivals allowed to remain open and working.
Prosecutors are also launching investigations. Milan’s largest nursing home, Pio Albergo Trivulzio, has become the focus of a manslaughter probe over its handling of the pandemic, which has claimed the lives of more than 200 residents.
An inquiry has also begun into a hospital in Alzano Lombardo, near Bergamo, where the disease spread rapidly early in the pandemic, allegedly because medical staff failed to identify COVID-19 symptoms among patients.
Lawsuits are being prepared also by some businesses against the Chinese government in what may be bundled together and filed as a class action.
Codacons, an Italian consumer association, may sue the Chinese government in U.S. courts, where its lawyers believe they may have a better chance of success.
A ski resort hotel in the Dolomites has already filed with a local court seeking compensation from China’s Health Ministry for loss of business.
“The early and sudden closure led to disastrous consequences, including the dismissal of all staff and the cancellation of contracts with suppliers,” Marco Vignola, the lawyer representing the resort, told Italian media.