The Covid-19 pandemic is already triggering many disputes. For example, in the US, Federal District Court case filings have increased nearly threefold from the same period last year.[1] This article considers the types of disputes arising in each industry sector, and what we might expect to see in courts and arbitral tribunals in the coming months and years.

Dispute forecasting is not an exact science, but there are useful indicators. Countries which emerged early from the first wave of the crisis – such as China, Italy and Spain – reveal the kind of litigation that might be expected for countries at a later stage of the curve. Even countries with a later infection peak can throw light on trends, such as in the US where class actions tend to be filed faster than in other systems.

There are also historical precedents. The SARS outbreak in 2003 generated types of disputes which are likely to re-emerge. More recently, the disputes arising from the financial crisis in 2008 give some idea of what to expect from a global economic downturn. These are discussed below.

However, there are important differences. Litigation that emerges in one legal system may not translate to another. SARS infected only around 8,000 people, and was focused on China, Hong Kong, and a handful of other countries such as Canada. Disputes from the financial crisis have kept lawyers busy for over a decade but that crisis had a different cause and a less direct human impact.


This article first appeared on the website of the Litigation Committee of the Legal Practice Division of the International Bar Association, and is reproduced by kind permission of the International Bar Association, London, UK. © International Bar Association.

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