COVID Liability: Who's Responsible If Customers Or Employees Contract Virus

Employment attorney fully expects lawsuits as new legal ground is established

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Businesses still reeling from weeks of losing money during ordered closures are now facing another concern as they begin to reopen: COVID-19 liability.

Many are worried about liability should customers or employees contract the disease. A labor and employment attorney fully expects future lawsuits, whether they have merit or not.

“On any other day, there’s fertile ground for plenty of lawsuits, but in this situation, there’s new law to be made,” said attorney Meagan Garland.

So how do businesses protect themselves?

Garland recommends business owners aggressively show customers they’re following, and even exceeding recommended public health requirements.

That includes taking extra steps to train staff, posting guidelines, and satisfying sanitation requirements. Garland says the burden is on employers to show they have taken proactive steps and have acted in good faith to follow health orders.

“Employers' baseline obligation is to really exceed the guidelines, exceed the requirements, have everything documented and noticed in an effort to mitigate the risks, mitigate the liability," said Garland.

In Ramona, gym owner Peter San Nicolas plans to draft a COVID-19 waiver with an attorney.

“We’re working together to come up with a liability waiver that people will voluntarily sign as they come in. Really, we want to keep people safe,” said San Nicolas.

The current public health order prohibits gyms from operating, but San Angelo plans to reopen on June 1 regardless of the health order. He says he’s lost $250,000 since he was forced to shut down on March 17.

“I’m hoping that this will create change and help encourage the government and the county to help really speed things along,” said San Nicolas.

Garland isn’t sure if a waiver would be legally effective, and could actually dissuade customers from entering a business.

“Instead, posting notices, being very transparent about the steps that the businesses have taken to be in compliance,” said Garland.

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