UPDATED: What Businesses Need to Know about COVID-19 Liability

When a business invites customers into their premises to shop and/or purchase goods or services, the business has a duty to maintain its store in a reasonably safe condition and to warn of hazards that it knows or should know exist. 

These safe conditions are especially important in light of the current Coronavirus pandemic.

Restaurants serving food and beverages must take reasonable care to be sure that the products they provide are safe for consumption.

If a business fails to use reasonable precautions to protect customers from exposure to COVID-19, it may face claims from customers who are infected and/or exposed to the virus.

What Businesses Should Do to Protect Customers from COVID-19

To make a claim against a business, a person must first prove that the business did not take reasonable precautions to protect customers from exposure to Coronavirus.  

  • Take reasonable precautions to protect customers from exposure to Coronavirus  
  • Warn customers about potential exposure in an effort to avoid responsibility

As of Monday, May 11, 2020, the amended Safer at Home order requires employers to take reasonable steps to protect their employees and customers from exposure to Coronavirus. 

These precautions include:

  • Maintaining 6 feet of separation between all people.
  • Regularly disinfecting frequently used items and surfaces.
  • Encouraging handwashing and proper sanitation.
  • Preventing employees who are sick from coming into contact with other persons.
  • Providing remote working capability and minimizing travel.

Additional measures can include things like:

  • Use of appropriate protective equipment, including masks/face coverings and gloves where appropriate.
  • Monitoring employees for signs and symptoms of Coronavirus.
  • Limiting the number of customers in a store or an area.
  • Prohibiting close personal contact between staff and customers.

Limit Your Business Liability

Business owners may warn customers about potential exposure in an effort to avoid premise liability claims

However, a warning will not make a business immune from COVID-19 liability claims if the warning is not visible and easily understood.

Open and Obvious Conditions

Alabama law also provides that businesses are not responsible for conditions that are “open and obvious” to customers. 

Even if a business failed to take reasonable precautions to protect customers from exposure, it may not be responsible if the hazard was open and obvious. 

This means that the customer knew that the risk of infection was present and decided to shop in the store anyway.

Can I Sue a Business if I Get COVID-19 After Visiting?

As part of the State’s Amended Safer at Home Order, Alabama law now provides certain protections for businesses from legal claims stemming from a COVID-19 infection.

In order for a sick individual to make a claim against a business, he/she must prove the following by “clear and convincing” evidence:

  • That the business was wanton, reckless, willful, or intentional when it failed to take reasonable precautions to protect its customers.
  • That his or her illness was more likely than not caused by the business’s conduct.

Proving the source of exposure may be challenging since people may be exposed in different locations in their everyday lives. 

If a person cannot show that their only likely exposure came from the store, he or she might not be able to make a successful claim.

Coronavirus Questions?

Do you have questions about COVID-19 and premise liability?  Please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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