Business Liability for COVID-19

As businesses continue to reopen across the country, many owners are asking whether they have any protection from patron-initiated COVID-19 lawsuits. The short answer is no. Until there is legislation or a government order granting immunity from such lawsuits, a business’s liability remains unchanged. They can be sued by any patron.

However, in the state of California, there has been a push by legislators and companies to grant businesses immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits. On May 12, 2020, a group of Democratic lawmakers sent a joint letter to the governor requesting he provide immunity to businesses opening in a COVID-19 world. Specifically, the lawmakers requested that businesses that followed all of the governor’s safety protocols upon reopening would be granted the desired immunity. The suggestion would promote the sanitizing of businesses and provide the much-sought immunity. The plea apparently went unanswered, with no action on the part of Governor Newsom.

The fear is that many of these businesses will be inundated with lawsuits, adding to their mounting losses. However, proving whether an individual contracted COVID-19 at an establishment could be a substantial challenge.

For example, if one eats at a restaurant and contracts COVID-19, can they prove they contracted COVID-19 at the restaurant and not the parking structure or the five other places visited that day? Would the strategy be to sue every business visited and let them work it out? Maybe. This exact scenario has occurred in asbestos litigation for years. The difficulty with COVID-19 is that the same issues would apply on a much wider scale, dwarfing any asbestos case.

Could the courts even handle the volume of potential cases? With the backlog of current matters, I would say no.

Clearly, without the potential of immunity for these businesses, this all may become a reality in the not-too-distant future. This will also likely lead to increased loss and business bankruptcies, which will only contribute to an economy in desperate need of some good news. For now, we will have to play the waiting game, and see how current government protocol keeps the coronavirus in check, and how that changes as the number of cases and deaths fluctuate.

About Tim Burke

Tim is a licensed attorney in California and Nevada. He brings over 19 years of transactional and litigation experience to JohnHart. Prior to joining JohnHart, Tim was in private practice providing legal guidance to clients on Real Estate, financial, corporate, estate planning, and employment matters.

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