Indiana Among Others Considers a COVID Lawsuit Shield for Businesses
Written by AskTheLawyers.com™
Across the country COVID restrictions have forced businesses and schools to shut down and/or operate remotely. Small businesses have been impacted the most by these restrictions, and as the world begins to consider reopening concerns are rising over the idea of COVID lawsuits. While large companies like Amazon and Walmart can likely afford to pay out any necessary settlements or verdicts, smaller businesses could go under after facing litigation for a single case. The actual likelihood of this breed of lawsuits is only theoretical at this point, but the fear of such expensive litigation may be posing a restriction in itself. This is the motivation for many states considering limited immunity and/or legal shields for businesses facing this type of litigation.
Indiana’s state government among others is considering a “legal shield” to protect businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits.
This legal shield would hypothetically protect businesses, universities, and institutions from lawsuits over COVID exposure. The legal shield would be an attempt to address the question of what exactly a company can be held liable for in regard to the coronavirus. For example, if someone dines at a restaurant and the next week tests positive for COVID, should they be allowed to sue the restaurant? There are a myriad of difficulties to address in this scenario, including whether or not contraction of the virus could actually be linked to the restaurant in this scenario, and whether or not the customer takes liability on themself for attending the restaurant in the first place.
This bill would theoretically still allow for lawsuits when a business or institution committed gross negligence or willful misconduct in regard to COVID safety.
For those who are concerned about a legal shield removing accountability, it may help to note that under this possible future bill, lawsuits would still be allowed in cases of gross negligence or willful misconduct. This means that in cases where someone is exposed to/catches the virus after visiting a business or institution that could have prevented that spread with proper attention to basic safety guidelines, a lawsuit is still a viable means of recovery.
Employers across the country are already facing COVID-19 liability lawsuits.
Lawsuits are already cropping up all over the country, mostly from employees working for companies who allegedly have not taken adequate precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their facilities. Most of these lawsuits have come from employees working in shipping, packing, or factory settings where it’s often close-quarters and employers have allegedly not provided adequate means to follow COVID safety protocols, such as social distancing, mask wearing, and allowing sick workers to stay home without repercussion. So far, these lawsuits have largely been posed by employees, but future continuing lawsuits are predicted to be filed by customers of these and other businesses as well.
The supposed goal of the legal shield is to give small businesses and institutions the confidence to pursue a “new normal”, and reopen safely.
Sen. Mark Messmer who is currently preparing the COVID liability shield law has commented that while the possibility of this type of lawsuit arising against small businesses doesn’t seem high, the fear of facing them is preventing the state from moving back to some type of normal. Others argue that granting any kind of immunity to businesses and institutions will only encourage poor conduct and willful diversion from accepted safety standards during the pandemic.
It remains to be seen whether this bill will pass in Indiana, but whatever happens will likely set an example for other states across the country that are considering similar limited liability protection measures for businesses and institutions facing potential COVID lawsuits.