In New York State, the legislature has approved protections for certain healthcare professionals with what is expected to be a flurry of lawsuits as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While these protections are certainly understandable, no such protection exists for businesses.
For example, if a restaurant in New York State served a patron, and that patron contracted COVID-19, can the business be shielded from lawsuits? The short answer, at this very moment, is no. With regard to the viability of the claim, it can be argued at this early stage that it would be hard to pinpoint whether the virus was contracted at this particular establishment versus elsewhere, such as at the workplace, home, or other location. This, of course, would lead to new, specific experts being retained to identify precisely where and how the virus was contracted.
Another perspective is that liability protections for businesses would create a further danger to the public, as businesses would become careless and not be proactive in containing and protecting against the spread of the virus. And what about employees of the establishment, does Workers’ Compensation remain the remedy for an employee, who becomes infected with COVID-19 and suffers serious personal injury as a result of that diagnosis?
One thing is for sure, we do not yet know the exact impact COVID-19 will have on insurance companies and defending lawsuits related to the pandemic. One thing is for sure, the lawsuits are coming and businesses need to do whatever it takes to protect themselves and their patrons. Similar to post 9/11 lawsuits that are still being filed today, we can expect pandemic-related lawsuits to exist for the next few decades.