As businesses open up, there is a risk of continued spread of COVID-19 in shopping areas, offices, and other commercial properties. As such, there may be cause for lawsuits involving illness contracted on businesses’ properties in the future. How viable these lawsuits will be is still unclear, but there will likely be cases where individuals can recover damages.
Property Owners’ Duty of Care and Coronavirus
The CDC and other organizations are constantly recommending new preventive measures to stall the spread of the virus, including guidelines for business owners. Given that property owners and managers have a duty to help make sure those who visit their properties are safe from harm, failing to follow those guidelines may pose a risk to their customers, tenants, and so forth.
It’s worth noting, however, that businesses don’t necessarily have to successfully prevent the spread of disease on their properties. If they have done everything possible to keep visitors and customers from contracting the disease, they have fulfilled their part and thus are unlikely to be held liable for illness.
On the other hand, failing to implement those guidelines will likely be seen as a breach of that duty of care. In those cases, infected individuals would likely be able to file a lawsuit.
Challenges of Premises Liability and Illness
While a business that doesn’t follow recommended guidelines could be held liable for any illness contracted on their property, that doesn’t necessarily mean a coronavirus-related lawsuit filed against them would be successful. This is due to the challenges of pursuing personal injury damages for illness.
Finding the cause of illness
One of the main challenges is pinning down the exact cause of an illness. Often, it’s difficult to determine when and where a disease was actually contracted. Looking at incubation periods and comparing those to daily activities can help narrow the search, but if you’ve visited multiple places on consecutive days of the week, it’s going to be difficult to determine where you were actually exposed to the disease.
On top of that, it may be difficult to prove whether the defendant—i.e. the property owner, in this case—was actually negligent in applying reasonable preventive measures. It’s entirely possible that a business with specific policies in place fails in actually enforcing them. Proving that it failed in enforcing those measures can be difficult since it may occur on a managerial—or even individual—level.
Defining “reasonable preventive measures”
Recommended preventive measures when it comes to COVID-19 are shifting rapidly as we learn more about the disease. While it may be possible to track when specific recommendations come out, it can still be difficult for businesses to keep up with everything. Whether business owners can be reasonably expected to keep up with every single recommendation as it comes out hasn’t yet been specifically established in a court of law, so this may be a gray area in some cases.
Overcoming the Challenges
Case law in this area hasn’t been developed yet, so it’s important to have a competent attorney on your side if you have fallen ill due to a business owners’ negligence. In addition, make sure you see a doctor if you feel ill and establish a clear medical record. Along with an attorney, that can be the breaking point between a successful case and an unsuccessful one.