Challenging vaccine misinformation – not online – but in a courtroom. An attorney based out of Salt Lake City is gearing up to file mass action lawsuits across the country.
More than half a million Americans have died from COVID. Attorney Brian Rothschild says the real tragedy is the thousands who died after a vaccine became available.
People like Mikel Lowe.
“It’s just absolutely heartbreaking for all of us," says Christina Lowe, a recently widowed mother of two young boys.
Lowe and her late husband Mikel, a San Diego County native and federal firefighter, both believed - and even shared - vaccine misinformation. That is, until he got COVID, and died at just 38-years-old.
“We honestly thought that COVID was mostly political," said Lowe. "That the vaccine mandates were mostly political. We did not think that it would impact our family. And here we are today, and it’s completely devastated my family.”
A recent Center for Countering Digital Hate study identified 12 people responsible for generating more than 65 percent of vaccine misinformation online, the so-called “Disinformation Dozen.”
“They really are a very small and tight group of people who are responsible for a tremendous amount of damage," says Rothschild. "Those are the people who should be held accountable for this.”
Rothschild is now representing spouses, children and parents of unvaccinated COVID victims in soon-to-be-filed wrongful death suits against the Disinformation Dozen.
“My first reaction when I heard about this potential lawsuit was wow that’s a very interesting angle," said San Diego legal analyst Dan Eaton.
Eaton says in order to win these suits, Rothschild will have to prove unvaccinated people who died from COVID due to negligent or intentional actions by misinformers.
“The challenge in proving this claim is showing there is a link between the conduct and the death," says Eaton.
A challenge he says is made all the more tricky in a time when public health leaders are still sorting out the truth.
“This is a unique kind of wrongful death lawsuit because you are talking about misinformation related to a pandemic that has a long of uncertainty surrounding it," says Eaton.
Something that is for certain: For Rothschild, this is personal.
“Well for a long time I felt helpless," said Rothschild. "I’ve had friends die - very near and dear friends to me - before the vaccines were available. And I felt sort of helpless about that. And I think a lot of us did and do. But now that the vaccines are generally available, and people are still dying, I feel angry about that. I can’t sit idly by and allow that sort of thing to go on without searching for an answer. Searching for a way to reduce that type of harm in our society. And I think this is a way.”
Rothschild says he plans to file those mass action lawsuits in several states by the end of October.
The Communication Decency Act signed into law under the Clinton presidency largely protects social media platforms from liability for information posted on those platforms. Basically, social media platforms are not considered publishers under federal law which means they cannot be sued.