As businesses continue to reopen across the country, many owners are concerned about business liability. They are asking whether they have any protection from patron-initiated COVID-19 lawsuits. The short answer is no. That is to say until there is legislation or a government order granting immunity from such lawsuits, a business’s liability remains unchanged. Any patron can sue them, under current regulations. However, will businesses actually need this protection? We’ll answer that question and more:
The Possibility of Immunity
Early in the pandemic, there was a push by California legislators and companies to grant businesses immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits. As a result, on May 12, 2020, a group of Democratic lawmakers decided to do something about it. They sent a joint letter to the governor requesting that 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 be granted immunity. In short, the suggestion would promote the sanitizing of business and provide the desired immunity. The plea apparently went unanswered, with no action on the part of Governor Newsom.
Difficult to Prove
Legislators and business owners understandably feared that lawsuits would come flooding in. Numerous business were already reeling, the potential for lawsuits would only exacerbate their mounting losses. But the real challenge? Demonstrating that an individual contracted COVID-19 at a given establishment .
For example, if one goes to a restaurant and contracts COVID-19, could 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. That’s exactly how asbestos litigation has operated for years. The unique challenge of COVID-19, however, is that it occurs on a much broader scale, dwarfing any asbestos case.
Could the Courts even handle the volume of potential cases? The question may be moot.
All Smoke, No Fire
Many of the fears regarding rampant lawsuits against these businesses may prove to be unfounded. This is because COVID-19 related lawsuits have not really materialized, rendering the fears about business liability overblown.
In fact, many of the cases nationwide appear to involve insurance coverage issues. Restaurants and bars filed lawsuits for disputes with their insurance companies regarding coverage for pandemic-related losses.
This is not to say there may have been a lawsuit or two filed by a patron against a business related to COVID 19. Clearly, if those lawsuits were filed, the number was nowhere near significant enough to be reported.
Moving forward, providing immunity for businesses is likely not necessary. If there were going to be a deluge of COVID-19 patron lawsuits, we would have seen them by this time.