Can a Business be Sued if an Employee or Customer Contracts COVID-19?

On April 27, Georgia businesses that have been closed for several weeks because of the coronavirus were allowed to reopen, but with conditions. Businesses are required to implement various measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. These include:

  • Screening and evaluating symptomatic workers and requiring them to stay home if they are ill;
  • Keeping the workplace disinfected and sanitized and providing workers with disinfectant;
  • Providing employees with protective equipment (such as masks and gloves) as available;
  • Enforcing social distancing among workers and patrons;
  • Implementing telework where possible and holding meetings virtually;
  • Implementing staggered work shifts where possible;
  • Providing alternate points of sale outside the workplace when possible (such as curbside pickup or delivery).

There are also requirements that are specific to certain industries. For example, food establishments must limit the number of patrons to 50% of fire capacity (or eight patrons per 1000 square feet), encourage non-cash payments when possible, and sanitize the doors to enter and exit the establishment at least three times per day.

As Georgia and other states start to reopen, numerous legal concerns are emerging. From the standpoint of employees and customers, one of the most commonly asked questions is whether or not they are able to sue a business if they end up with COVID-19 from being in their establishment. There are new cases of the coronavirus each day, and without a vaccine, this is a major risk that people are taking as they enter a business.

Can a Customer Sue a Business for Contracting COVID-19?

This is an open question, because we are in uncharted legal territory here. Every situation is different, and there is no simple answer that applies to all circumstances. There have already been numerous lawsuits against the major cruise ship companies for their handling of COVID-19, and those who contracted the coronavirus on one of the ships and the families of those who have died from it deserve to be compensated. Unfortunately, this litigation is an uphill battle because of certain factors that are specific to the cruise ship industry.

One of the major challenges with suing any business for contracting COVID-19 will be proving that the virus was passed to you while you were patronizing their establishment. This is a little easier to show when you were on a cruise ship for several days than if you spent an hour or two in a grocery store or restaurant, for example. A court will also look at what measures the business took to keep their patrons safe. If they did not follow the guidelines discussed earlier that were laid out by the state, then a customer might possibly have a case, but the rest of the circumstances would still need to be looked at by an experienced personal injury lawyer.

Can an Employee Sue an Employer for Contracting COVID-19?

This again is an emerging area of law that has yet to be settled. There have been some lawsuits filed against employers, but it is too early to tell how they will turn out. For example, a Dallas, Texas meat plant was sued by the family of a 36-year-old worker who died after getting the coronavirus at work. Walmart was also sued by the family of a worker who died after contracting COVID-19 on the job.

There will certainly be a lot of workers’ compensation claims from employees who contract the virus on the job. Workers’ comp does not require employees to prove negligence, and since a typical employee spends the majority of their hours in a week at work, they may have a better chance of prevailing with this type of claim.

If an employee is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, they are generally barred from being able to sue their employer unless they can prove that their employer acted with malice or deliberate intent. That said, there could be other parties outside someone’s employer who may have given them the virus, such as a subcontractor working in the building who failed to follow social distancing guidelines. In the case of third-party liability, the infected employee may be able to bring a lawsuit against the responsible party.

Speak with an Experienced Atlanta Personal Injury Lawyer

The question of whether or not a business can be sued if an employee or customer ends up with COVID-19 has no simple answer. Every case is unique, and if you find yourself in this situation, the best thing to do is talk with a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury attorney about your case.

At Ross Moore Law, we want you to know that we are here to help with any potential personal injury claims you may have, especially during this difficult time. We are doing most of our tasks remotely these days, but our firm was built with the technology and resources to remain fully operational even during a pandemic like the one our country is currently facing. For a free consultation and case assessment, message us online or call our office today at (404) 905-3146. We look forward to serving you!