When Richard Guasto died of complications from the coronavirus after his stay at a Long Island rehab facility last month, his grief-stricken family blamed China — and now they’re suing the country.
“It’s just not fair,” said Guasto’s son, Richard Jr. “He was a relatively young man. This should not have happened to him.”
The elder Guasto, who owned a cleaning company in West Babylon, was 58 years old and in good health when he entered a Nassau County nursing home that doubled as a rehab facility in March, recuperating from a fractured pelvis and ankle suffered in a car accident, said his son.
But the family suspects the Hempstead facility, which they refused to name, was riddled with the coronavirus. Shortly after he was admitted, Guasto suffered severe respiratory issues, and was transferred to a local hospital where he tested positive for COVID-19, his son told The Post. He died on April 15.
Guasto is now one of 15,000 plaintiffs suing the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party in a Florida federal court for wrongful death. The complaint accuses them of “intentional, deliberate and reckless cover-up” of COVID-19, which originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. The lawsuit, one of two class-actions filed by the Berman Law Group, is seeking trillions of dollars in compensation for virus victims and their families.
“If they broke their own laws and the acts they committed were so egregious, then they need to be held accountable, “ said Jeremy Alters, lead attorney in the lawsuits, the second of which represents front-line health workers.
Similar suits have been filed in California, Pennsylvania and Texas. Last month, Missouri’s Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed suit against the Chinese government alleging it did nothing to stop the spread of a disease that escaped a government lab where scientists were conducting experiments on bat viruses. The pandemic has resulted in more than 300,000 deaths globally.
But it isn’t easy suing a sovereign country, which is why Alters and his team have distinguished between the Communist Party and China itself. And even if they win a case in an American court, collecting a potential judgment of billions might be impossible. Litigation against Saudi Arabia for its alleged role in financing the 9/11 attacks is still not resolved. However, a 20-year court battle against Libya in the 1988 downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, did result in a $1.5 billion payout to victims’ families in 2008.
“I think that they’re probably not going to be successful,” said Andrew Kent, a professor specializing in foreign relations and constitutional law at Fordham University Law School. “First of all, the Communist Party is the ultimate source of political power in China. And without a change by Congress to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act that protects countries from lawsuits, there is little chance of success.”
Already, several Republican lawmakers are floating bills to strip China of its sovereign immunity protection in US courts. Alters, who last year reached a $248 million settlement in a lawsuit against a Chinese company for selling tainted drywall in the US, is planning to use loopholes in the immunity law. That litigation was resolved in January, and the payments to the plaintiffs will be made in the near future, Alters said.
China can be sued for “tortious acts” that cause “egregious” harm to Americans, he said, adding that China’s failure to warn the US about the severity of the coronavirus could fall into that category.
Guasto said he doesn’t know what to expect from the lawsuit but hopes it will bring his family “a sense of closure and some justice.” Last Thursday he finally picked up his father’s ashes. His father was cremated in Connecticut because New York funeral homes were overwhelmed when he died, he said.
“I was really upset and crying,” Guasto said “He was a good guy, an Italian American who liked football and baseball and kept pictures of his grandkids at the nursing home. He didn’t deserve this.”