Missouri Files Lawsuit Against China Over Coronavirus, GOP Lawmakers Lead First State 'Negligence' Claims

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt on Tuesday made the Midwest state the first in the country to file a lawsuit against the Chinese government over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Missouri's civil lawsuit against China was filed in U.S. federal court by Schmitt Tuesday, accusing the communist government's officials of negligence and "deceit" seeking damages for "the enormous loss of life, human suffering and economic turmoil" COVID-19's spread has caused. Several class-action lawsuits have been filed in U.S. courts by private groups but Schmitt's legal action makes Missouri the first state to file a lawsuit alleging damages by the foreign government. The lawsuit claims Chinese officials hoarded personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks after publicly revealing the existence of COVID-19 in December 2019.

"Today I filed suit against the Chinese government to seek recovery for the devastating loss of life & economic suffering Missourians face as a result of the #COVID19 pandemic. The bottom line: they lied to the world & should be held accountable," Schmitt tweeted Tuesday.

According to Missouri's Department of Health and Senior Services, there have been 5,941 coronavirus cases in the state and 189 deaths tied to COVID-19 through April 21.

The lawsuit comes after Monday's move by 22 Republican lawmakers in Congress who requested President Donald Trump bring a case against the Chinese government in the International Court of Justice (ICIJ) alleging similar pandemic response failures. International law experts told Reuters Tuesday that legal efforts to hold China liable for the spread of coronavirus in U.S. courts are almost certain to fail, speculating that the GOP-led move is an election year stunt. Attorney General Schmitt is currently running for re-election and is on the ballot for the state's August 4 GOP primary.

"We are seeing a lot of people on the political right focus on the China issue to cover up for the U.S. government's own errors," said Tom Ginsburg, a professor of international law at the University of Chicago, in a Tuesday interview with Reuters.

Trump initially praised China and the Beijing government's leader, Xi Jinping, for their response to the outbreak, which has since gone on to infect more than 2.5 million people worldwide. But the president later shifted his tone and began labeling COVID-19 "the Chinese virus" after it began spreading to the United States in February. Last week, Chinese officials denied Trump administration accusations that the virus originated in a Wuhan lab which was testing coronavirus strains on bats.

"In Missouri, the impact of the virus is very real - thousands have been infected and many have died, families have been separated from dying loved ones, small businesses are shuttering their doors, and those living paycheck to paycheck are struggling to put food on their table," Schmitt said in a statement Tuesday.

Missouri's lawsuit was immediately praised by supporters of the president and many Republican congressional counterparts Tuesday:

"Huge news. Given the lies and disinformation from China throughout this process a very appropriate move. So many lives and jobs lost that could have been avoided!" tweeted Donald Trump Jr., praising the legal action Tuesday.

missouri files lawsuit china coronavirus
Republican lawmakers made Missouri the first state to file a lawsuit against the Chinese government over the country's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. JAMIE SQUIRE / Staff/Getty Images

Newsweek reached out to Missouri Attorney General's office Tuesday but did not receive a reply by time of publication.