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Wife Cannot Sue Spouse's Co. Over Her COVID-19 Infection

By Melissa Angell · May 11, 2021, 7:02 PM EDT

A California federal judge dismissed an amended suit brought by a spouse looking to hold her husband's employer responsible for her COVID-19 infection, finding that the state's workers' compensation law bars her argument and further noting that the employer's duty to provide a safe work environment does not extend to non-employees.

In an order filed Monday, U.S. District Judge Maxine M. Chesney axed the suit brought by Corby and Robert Kuciemba for good, handing a win to Victory Woodworks Inc.

Judge Chesney's order marks an end to the suit that was first lobbed in state court in October and subsequently removed to a federal venue in December, in which Corby Kuciemba alleges that her husband was infected with COVID-19 and, though asymptomatic, transmitted the disease to her. 

"Such claims are subject to dismissal for the reason that defendant's duty to provide a safe workplace to its employees does not extend to nonemployees who, like Corby Kuciemba, contract a viral infection away from those premises," the judge wrote in her order.

Corby Kuciemba had alleged in the suit that it was Victory's duty to keep her from being harmed.

In a brief filed in January, Victory said that the nature of Corby Kuciemba's claims asked too much of companies, as finding Victory liable for her infection would essentially require it to ensure that no one in the public could possibly be infected by its workers.

Victory further argued that it never owed a duty to Corby Kuciemba, as she never visited the job site, and that Robert Kuciemba's injury caused her infection, not any action of Victory's.

Following the suit's February dismissal, Corby Kuciemba later amended her argument to allege that her husband's clothes, personal belongings or his body were vehicles for the virus.

But in April, Victory argued that the revised complaint improperly contradicted the original complaint's allegations in order to avoid falling into the trap of the workers' compensation exclusive remedy. That remedy specifies that workers' compensation is the only benefit available to workers injured on the job, as well as those injured as a result of the employee.

Victory went on to reference "The Wizard of Oz," saying that the company was asked to ignore the Kuciembas' original argument in the way the character Dorothy was asked to "ignore the man behind the curtain."

On Monday, Judge Chesney dismissed the suit without leave to amend, addressing each one of the Kuciembas' arguments.

First, the judge found that Corby Kuciemba's claim that she contracted the coronavirus through direct contact with her husband must fail since the claim is barred by the "exclusive remedy provisions" found within California's workers' compensation statutes.

The judge didn't buy into the clothing argument either, and axed it for failing to plead a plausible claim.

And in the instance that the Kuciembas' claims are "neither barred by statute nor deemed insufficiently pleaded," the judge determined that they still fail.

Representatives for the parties did not immediately respond to Law360's requests for comment on Tuesday.

The Kuciembas are represented by Martin Zurada of Venardi Zurada LLP.

Victory is represented by William Bogdan of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP.

The case is Corby Kuciemba et al. v. Victory Woodworks Inc., case number 3:20-cv-09355, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

--Additional reporting by Mike Curley and Rachel Stone. Editing by Regan Estes.

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