As a business owner, you may be panicked wondering if you can be held liable if an employee or customer contracts COVID-19 while in your place of business. This isn’t just applicable to healthcare workers, but everyone deemed essential–grocery stores, banks, restaurants– anywhere that customers and employees may have been susceptible. But, does a business have a heightened responsibility to protect individuals from the virus?
This is the question after Princess Cruise Lines was sued for gross negligence after passengers contracted the novel coronavirus. While these types of suits are difficult to win because cruise lines experience certain advantages, it strikes a good point: who is at fault for the spread?
Business Liability to Customers
Some states have very specific requirements on business owners’ responsibility to customers to limit their exposure to dangerous conditions. In many of those states, the business owner must take a reasonable or due care to provide safe environments to clients. The responsibility lies in eliminating the dangerous condition so as to ensure the environment of the business does not become unsafe.
This, of course, is difficult to manage with COVID-19 because not all who carry the virus are symptomatic. And even if all precautions are taken and CDC guidelines are followed, nothing is a guarantee.
At present, the CDC has not issued specific heightened or enhanced duties for a business to follow. However, it is best practice for a business owner to follow all suggested guidelines from reputable sources when practical to help limit liability and boost reasonable care actions.
Customers Expectations During COVID-19
One element which may protect some business owners is a customer’s contributory negligence or assumption of risk.
- Contributory negligence is the failure of the injured to act prudently which then resulted in the injury
- Assumption of risk is the idea that the injured voluntarily exposed him or herself to a known danger
These are both important to business owners as the CDC, WHO, and state organizations have been urging individuals to stay at home and only go out for life-sustaining essentials. In addition, they have also provided guidance on how to protect yourself if you do have to go out to limit potential exposure. Given all this information, it is fair to say that anyone with a television, radio, internet, or access to a newspaper would be aware of the risks of leaving home, thus making them a contributor to the risk of contracting COVID-19.
Businesses can protect themselves though.
Cautious Measures To Be Taken By Business Owners
If you are a business owner working to limit your liability in potential COVID-19 outbreaks, there are actions you can take and document to prove your reasonable care was taken.
- Separate employees and send sick employees home
- Educate employees and customers
- Use proper building control
- Practice good hygiene
- Provide personal protective equipment as well as tissues, gloves, and sanitizer
- Mark six feet distances to encourage safe practices
- Discourage touching
- Clean and disinfect often
If you are a business owner worried about your liability in COVID-19 outbreaks with customers or employees, know you are not alone.
Contact the COVID-19 Business Litigation Attorneys Today.
You have concerns and rightfully so. Let us help you review policy and procedure to ensure you have done everything in your power to protect your employees and customers at this time. Contact us today.