Italians who lost family members to COVID-19 seek €100 million in damages

Around 500 relatives of people who died of COVID-19 in Italy said on Wednesday they were initiating legal action against regional and national authorities, seeking €100 million (more than $156 million Cdn) in damages.

The civil lawsuit, which the plaintiffs said they would present to a Rome court in the next few hours, is against Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Health Minister Roberto Speranza and the governor of the northerly Lombardy region, Attilio Fontana.

Italy, the first Western country hit by the coronavirus, has seen almost 70,000 deaths from COVID-19 since its outbreak there in February, the highest toll in Europe and the fifth-highest in the world. The hardest-hit region is Lombardy, where the first COVID-19 patient was detected on Feb. 20.

The lawsuit is being brought by members of a committee called Noi Denunceremo (We Will Go to Court), set up in April to represent the relatives of people who died in Bergamo, one of Lombardy’s worst-affected cities.

“This case is our Christmas gift to those who should have done what they were supposed to do, but didn’t,” the group’s president, Luca Fusco, said in a statement.

A Civil Protection member is seen in a hangar near Bergamo, Italy, in April where 18 coffins of victims of COVID-19 waited to be transported to Florence by the Italian Army to be cremated. (Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

Alleging failure to take quick action

The committee said when the outbreak erupted in Lombardy, local authorities and the central government failed to take rapid action that could have avoided the need for a national lockdown and the economic damage it has brought.

They also decried an alleged lack of preparedness, with neither Rome nor the Lombardy region having an updated plan in place to deal with a possible pandemic.

In June, Noi Denunceremo asked prosecutors in Bergamo to investigate possible criminal responsibility in the management of the pandemic.

Prime Minister Conte was questioned by the prosecutors during the summer as a witness but is not under criminal investigation.