A Las Vegas law firm has filed a class action lawsuit against China, alleging the country is part of a “totalitarian government system” that engaged in a cover-up after learning about the virus, allowing it to spiral out of control and wreak havoc in the U.S.
The complaint was filed late Monday in federal court in Nevada on behalf of American small businesses with 500 or fewer employees. Law firm Eglet Adams said the country’s actions when it learned of the dangers of the virus in the fall contributed to its spread around the world and economic losses in the U.S. that could mount to trillions of dollars.
“The People’s Republic of China and other defendants intentionally misled the international community about the coronavirus and its devastating medical and economic effects,” said lawyer Robert Eglet. “It is believed that defendants intimidated doctors, scientists, journalists and lawyers and ordered the destruction of medical testing data which would have exposed defendants’ attempted cover-up.”
Other defendants include the governments of the city of Wuhan, the province of Hubei, the national health commission of China and various ministries within the Chinese government. Officials from the Chinese International Press Center and embassy did not immediately respond to messages Tuesday afternoon seeking comment from the Chinese government.
In a press conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Eglet argued there were a series of actions taken by the Chinese government since mid-November that involved “exaggerating good news while suppressing bad news.”
Eglet accused government officials of underreporting early deaths in Wuhan, ordering patient data from the city to be destroyed after it was sent to genomics companies, censoring social media reports of the disease, ousting journalists and ordering them to delete footage of hospitals and downplaying the seriousness of the situation.
He said government officials misled people by describing the condition as pneumonia and failed to shut down large gatherings, allowing 40,000 families to gather for a potluck in Wuhan in mid-January in spite of health concerns. That conduct prevented the containment of the virus, he said.
“Defendants’ conduct has set off an unprecedented worldwide pandemic which has caused panic, illness, deaths and a … financial meltdown that may result in a global recession worse than the Great Depression,” Eglet said.
In an email sent Wednesday, a spokesperson for the People’s Republic of China’s U.S. embassy said the country has been sharing information with other countries about the outbreak in an “open, transparent and responsible manner.”
” Regarding the case you mentioned in Nevada State, we have not got any relevant documents from plaintiffs,” a spokesperson for the embassy said in an email. “We want to point out that those allegations are based on rumors and totally unfounded. This case is definitely a malicious and frivolous lawsuit.”
The lawyer said that China had an obligation to be transparent about the disease and not suppress information about it because of its membership in the World Health Organization and as a party in international trade agreements.
“American small businesses are not just gonna stand by and idly let this kind of carnage and damage happen to them because of the Chinese government’s irresponsibility,” Eglet said.
Nevada-based plaintiffs include restaurant proprietor Bella Vista LLC, floral company Greenfield & Company Inc., Life Real Estate LLC and Mobile Medic CPR.
Eglet is known for major lawsuits including an ongoing one against opioid manufacturers on behalf of the state and political subdivisions, as well as one against pharmaceutical companies after a hepatitis C outbreak in Southern Nevada colonoscopy clinics a more than a decade ago.
He acknowledged that the lawsuit against China could carry on for years but “we’re in it for the long haul.” Although he says he expects China to argue on the basis of sovereign immunity, Eglet said he believes China’s conduct falls into an exception category under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act of 1976.
He noted that the lawsuit was against the Chinese government, not Chinese people, who he said were victims of the government’s conduct. That aligns with a statement from Gov. Steve Sisolak last week that urged Nevadans to support Asian-American communities that have been “unfairly stigmatized and harmed by misconceptions and misinformation about the virus.”
“American Chinese and the people of China are not to blame for China’s government’s misdeeds,” Eglet said.
Updated at 5:15 p.m. to add a response from the People’s Republic of China’s U.S. embassy.