As the country attempts to re-open its economy, business owners face a great deal of uncertainty relating to consumer traffic, inventory, efficiency, re-establishing its brand, and protecting its customers and employees against Covid-19. Most of my clients have been consulting me regarding the latter, with fears that someone will file a lawsuit, claiming that they contracted Covid-19 as an employee or customer.
As you would imagine, the legal system has not been faced with this type of issue in modern history. However, that does not mean that we expect these types of personal injury lawsuits to run rampant. This is because in order for a customer to prove that he or she got Covid-19 by patronizing your business, that person would have to prove three things: (1) that he or she contracted the virus at the business; (2) that the business knew about the potential risk of harm to customers presented by Covid-19; and (3) that the business failed to take reasonable steps to prevent that harm from occurring. That is an uphill battle. All businesses, big and small, should consider following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, including instructing employees to keep six feet away from co-workers and customers, taking temperatures, disinfecting surfaces, and providing face masks, hand sanitizers, and barriers when appropriate. Taking these precautions will significantly reduce exposure to personal injury lawsuits involving Covid-19.
Regarding employees, workers’ compensation laws in Florida were designed to provide medical treatment to employees who become injured or suffer illness while on the job, regardless of fault. However, in order to qualify for coverage under workers’ compensation, an employee must prove that the injury or illness occurred while on the job. Proving that an employee contracted Covid-19 while on the job will be challenging. Also, if the employer has followed guidelines set forth by OSHA and the CDC, it will be even more difficult to prove that Covid-19 was contracted at that particular business location.
By following certain safety and public health guidelines, business owners should be able to protect themselves from lawsuits related to Covid-19. All efforts should be taken in good-faith and with a sincere attempt at protecting customers and employees alike.