Fla. Health Workers Say China Is Hoarding Protective Supplies

By Lauren Berg
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Law360 (April 9, 2020, 10:05 PM EDT) -- A group of Florida medical professionals have accused China of hoarding personal protection equipment in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and refusing to export the much-needed equipment to the U.S., according to a Florida federal lawsuit.

The People's Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party are causing a shortage of masks, face shields and other personal protective equipment for the nearly four million medical professionals on the front line of the U.S. response to the novel coronavirus, the medical professionals alleged in their class action complaint on Wednesday.

"These deliberate and egregious acts ... have caused the deaths, infections, and other physical harms of medical providers throughout the world and within the United State and Florida, who have lacked proper and adequate PPE due to defendants' conduct," the medical workers said.

The complaint was filed by Drs. Jordan G. Kuppinger and Damon J. Deteso, intensive care unit nurse Moriah Aharon, registered nurse Christopher Payton and surgical technologist Rosanna Caruso. Two of the plaintiffs have tested positive for COVID-19, while the rest await their test results, according to the complaint.

Citing a recent New York Times article, the medical workers said that China has deliberately been buying up as much of the world's inventory of personal protection equipment and respirators as it can since as early as January, while also preventing its own factories from exporting the supplies.

Just as the rest of the world was beginning to understand the ramifications of COVID-19, the plaintiffs allege that China — "which already knew it had actively concealed the dangers of the virus from the world" — was hoarding the world's supply of personal protection equipment, including gloves, goggles and masks.

Having control of the market means China can now charge higher prices for the supplies that are desperately needed in the U.S. and around the world, the medical workers said.

The suit includes claims of negligence, intentional torts of toxic battery and civil assault and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The workers are seeking an order requiring China to pay compensatory and other damages to the plaintiffs and class members, as well as economic and non-economic damages.

China was also hit with a class action lawsuit on Wednesday from two California real estate companies and some small business groups seeking at least $8 trillion for what they say is the Chinese government's culpability in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plaintiffs in that suit claim, on behalf of the estimated 32 million small businesses in America, that the Chinese government engaged in a misinformation campaign during the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak and also suggests that a bio-weapons lab in the city of Wuhan could be the source of the virus, although no evidence for the allegation is presented in the lawsuit.

Counsel for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Contact information for China was not immediately available.

The medical professionals are represented by Matthew T. Moore and Vincent J. Duffy of the Law Offices of Berman & Berman PA.

Counsel information for China was not immediately available.

The case is Moriah Aharon et al. v. Chinese Communist Party et al., case number 9:20-cv-80604, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

--Additional reporting by Craig Clough. Editing by Nicole Bleier.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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