Updated March 24, 2020 - 4:46 pm
A Las Vegas law firm filed a class-action lawsuit Monday that accuses the Chinese government of engaging “in a campaign of misinformation and lies” to cover up the severity of the coronavirus outbreak.
“They engaged in a campaign of intimidating and arresting any Chinese doctors, scientists, attorneys and/or reporters who tried to alert the public about this dangerous ‘new’ coronavirus,” the complaint alleges.
The federal lawsuit was filed in Las Vegas by the firm Eglet Adams on behalf of four Nevada businesses and one Illinois business.
Named as defendants in the case are the People’s Republic of China, the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China, the Ministry of Emergency Management of the People’s Republic of China, the Ministry of Civil Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, the People’s Government of Hubei Province and the People’s Government of the City of Wuhan, China.
The lawsuit alleges negligence, public nuisance and “strict liability for conducting ultrahazardous activity.”
In a recent Twitter exchange with the U.S. State Department’s spokeswoman, Morgan Ortagus, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said the country has been updating the U.S. on the outbreak since Jan. 3.
“On Jan 25 President Trump tweeted to appreciate and thank China’s efforts & transparency,” Hua tweeted. “The same day US StateDept started to withdraw its consulate in Wuhan. On Feb 2 the travel ban was applied to China. What have you done since then? Scapegoating China doesn’t help.”
Attorney Robert Eglet said during a videoconference with news media Tuesday that the lawsuit targeted the government and that Chinese Americans and the people of China “are not to blame.”
He added that China has “trillions (of dollars) in assets here in the United States, so this judgment’s collectible,” though the litigation could take several years.
Eglet also said the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which protects nations from civil action, would not apply.
“There will always be challenges we receive in court, but we’re prepared for them,” he said.
Plaintiffs include Bella Vita restaurant; Greenfield & Company Inc., which buys and sells flowers; Life Real Estate, with offices in Nevada and 97 independent brokers; Mobile Medic CPR LLC, which provides “advanced CPR services” to companies; and DT Group LLC, an Illinois-based real estate company with offices in Nevada.
More than a million small businesses in the U.S. have been forced to close or substantially reduce their operations, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit sets up a timeline of the pandemic that starts with the first reported case in Wuhan in the Hubei province of China in November, stating that the Chinese government “should have known that COVID-19 was a ‘new’ dangerous, contagious, and deadly virus because many Chinese citizens who contracted the virus were getting very sick, and some were dying.”
“The PRC and the other defendants had a responsibility to its own citizens, the World Health Organization, and the international community, including the citizens and businesses of the US and those in the State of Nevada, to immediately disclose this evidence,” the complaint alleges.
When people in Wuhan started to die from the virus in December, the government tried to suppress that information, destroyed data and stopped testing, according to the lawsuit. By the time the Chinese government alerted the World Health Organization about pneumonia with an “unknown cause” at the end of December, the lawsuit said, “it was far too late.”
Because of China’s response to the pandemic, damages are expected to “exceed hundreds of billions of dollars, and such damages will only increase in the future,” the complaint alleges.