Donald Trump sued $31 million over use of term 'China virus' during COVID-19 pandemic

Former US President Donald Trump used stigmatising language when speaking about COVID-19.
Former US President Donald Trump used stigmatising language when speaking about COVID-19. Photo credit: Getty Images

Donald Trump is being sued for his repeated use of the phrases "China virus", "Wuhan virus" and "Kung Flu virus" during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Chinese American Civil Rights Coalition (CACRC) filed the lawsuit against the former US President on Thursday, alleging his wording contributed to a recent rise in racially motivated violence against America's Asian community. 

The nonprofit organisation is suing Trump for roughly US$22.9 million (NZ$31.7 million), claiming he caused Asian Americans a "large extent" of "emotional distress". 

"Defendant's [Trump's] extreme and outrageous conduct indeed has caused members of the Plaintiff organization [CACRC] and to a large extent Asian Americans emotional distress and resulted in an unmistakable rising uptrend of racial violence against Chinese Americans and Asian Americans from New York to California," court documents read.

A study based on US police department statistics show anti-Asian hate crimes surged by 150 percent in 2020 following the first reported coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan - the CACRC claiming Trump directly contributed to this rise. 

Trump used names such as "China virus" when referring to the COVID-19 and defended his use of it by saying he wanted to be "accurate". 

"Defendant [Trump] justified his repeated use of defamatory statements by insisting 'because it comes from China…I want to be accurate.'"

The court documents show how Trump was not being factually accurate when using these statements as COVID-19 doesn't originate from humans, its origins are unknown and it spreads regardless of ethnicity. 

"Had Defendant [Trump] really wanted to be accurate, the accurate statement would have been 'the first outbreak of the COVID-19 occurred in China.' Nevertheless, defendant’s intention was never about the truth." 

In early March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) asked people not to "attach locations or ethnicity to disease" for fear it would "fuel stigmatising attitudes". 

"Don't attach locations or ethnicity to the disease, this is not a 'Wuhan Virus', 'Chinese Virus' or 'Asian Virus'. The official name for the disease was deliberately chosen to avoid stigmatisation," the WHO said at the time. 

CACRC says Trump used stigmatising language when speaking about COVID-19 "repeatedly" from March 16, 2020, to as recently as March 16, 2021, and should have known better. 

On Thursday, current US President Joe Biden signed into law the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act aimed at reducing the amount of racial pandemic-related hate crimes. 

According to ABC News, the Act will make grants available to police to improve reporting of racially driven crimes.