The Covid-19 pandemic has put the world in turmoil and has everyone scrambling to figure out new ways of doing things because of the new rules and restrictions caused by the virus. Those new rules and restrictions heavily apply to property owners because of the greater risk of the virus spreading indoors. However, that also poses an unusual legal question, which is whether a property owner bears any responsibility if any of their guests or customers contracts the coronavirus.
Such a hypothetical would fall under the umbrella of premises liability law, which is a subset of personal injury law. Personal injury law is all about injuries that are caused by the negligence of another person so that makes the contraction of coronavirus on someone else’s property a curious case to litigate. That is why business owners should follow the Covid-19 safety guidelines and consult an attorney about any potential legal risks they may face. Business owners in New York should contact Long Island personal injury attorney Brett J. Harrison to get the advice they need.
Covid-19 and Premises Liability Law
Premises liability law is when a person gets injured on someone else’s property due to negligence on the part of the owner or manager of the property. The most common example is if a spill creates a slippery surface and the property owner does not clean it up or post a warning, leading to a customer to slip and injure themself. In that scenario, the property owner is responsible for the customer’s injury.
The way that premises liability law would apply to Covid-19 is that the owner would potentially be responsible for anyone contracting the virus on their property if they did not take the correct precautions. The Government is aware of this, which is why some senators created the Safe To Work Act that limits liability for property owners when it comes to coronavirus exposure actions. The Act states that any plaintiff attempting to hold the property owner liable for their contraction of Covid-19 must prove the following:
- The defendant was not following the Government guidelines to prevent the exposure of the coronavirus.
- The gross negligence or wilful misconduct of the defendant caused the plaintiff to be exposed to Covid-19.
- The exposure to Covid-19 caused the personal injuries of the plaintiff.
Additionally, the act limits the plaintiff’s compensation to economic damages only, so they cannot receive damages for pain and suffering or any other emotional or psychological problems stemming from their contraction of the virus.
The Effect of Covid-19 on Businesses
The Safe To Work Act has received mixed responses but it shows just how seriously property owners need to take the risk of Covid-19 for their guests and customers. Under normal circumstances property owners owe a duty of care to anyone who enters their premises, which means that they need to act in a reasonable way to prevent danger to their guests. However, it is unclear whether a duty of care applies to the coronavirus. For one thing, if someone does contract Covid-19, then it is likely to be from another person on the property, and a duty of care does not apply to harm caused by a third party. So if a customer gets the coronavirus from another customer, it is hard to say if the property owner can be held liable for that.
Another issue is that the risk of contracting coronavirus is known to all so a court may rule that the customer who entered the premises should have known the risk when they did so. That means they could have taken precautions or chosen not to enter the property. There is also the fact that it could be difficult to prove that the visit to the property led to the person contracting Covid-19 because of the long incubation period between the contraction of the virus and the onset of symptoms. That can make it difficult to prove when and where the infected individual was exposed to the virus.
Finally, the business owner could claim that the infected person was partially or completely at fault for catching the virus. Individuals, not just businesses, have to follow guidelines and if the infected person failed to follow some of them, like wearing a mask, then a jury could determine that they were responsible for contracting the virus.
How Businesses Can Protect Themselves
Even though the chances of someone winning a premises liability case involving the contraction of Covid-19 is slim, property owners should still take precautions to reduce the risk of exposure. They should follow the guidelines laid out by state and local governments and the CDC (Centres for Disease Control). If the property owners fail to enforce the recommended guidelines and someone gets infected, then the courts may decide that the property owner was negligent because they did not exercise reasonable care in trying to prevent the spread of the virus.
Since the guidelines are always changing as new information about the virus is uncovered, it would be wise for a company to have someone who monitors those changes so that they can be implemented as quickly as possible.
Protect Your Business From Covid-19 Premises Liability Claims
While the risk of a property owner being blamed for a visitor getting the coronavirus is low, they should still protect themselves just in case. That means enforcing the guidelines regarding masks and social distancing and testing employees on a regular basis. It might seem like Covid-19 has been around forever, but it is still new and more is being learned about it every day. That includes how people can protect themselves and each other, and as long as property owners stay up to date on the new information and follow the updated guidelines, they can protect their customers from the virus and protect themselves from any premises liability claims.