If there was ever a textbook example of damned if you do, damned if you don’t it would be the decisions made by businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Closing means laying off employees or trying to find money to keep them on while income evaporates. Staying closed means losing customer loyalty and rouble reopening in the future.
The most pressing issue, even beyond how to keep an income flow going, is the liability associated with any action taken. It’s hard enough to understand the legal liability definition when things are going well, but precedent is shifting and the government is in turmoil.
Whether you have a small mom and pop shop or a chain, it’s worth knowing how liability effects you and what you stand to lose. Waiting for the dust to settle is both not ideal and doubles down on the already tough decisions surrounding the pandemic for the commercial sector.
For those looking for help in this time, this guide explains five key facts about how legal liability is being used for and against businesses.
Factors Influencing Legal Liability Definition
As with any legal matter, it’s never so easy to arrive at a clear answer. Many factors go into a decision and how a ruling falls comes down to state laws, presiding judges, and the arguments made by attorneys.
Even so, there’s hope and some guidance to be found in understanding the current landscape.
1. Understanding Proximal Cause
Legal liability functions through a process of finding fault. At some level, someone (or something) is the cause of the harm.
This makes easy sense in some cases. If a car is driving the wrong way down a road and hits a pedestrian, the driver is responsible. They disregarded the safety of others, broke municipal laws, and showed poor judgment all in one package.
Other cases are a bit tougher. If a bucket of water is left unattended and gets knocked over, causing an electrical shock, who is to blame? Is it the person who left the bucket, the person who kicked it, or the entity that left the electrical wires exposed?
In some cases, liability can be weighed and fault distributed among multiple parties.
When it comes to a person contracting COVID-19, the question is “who is the proximal cause?” Or, who was the specific individual that passed along the virus?
Given that people are exposed to many potential infection vectors through a day, proving fault is exceptionally difficult.
Establishing an infection incident requires documentation and limited availability. This kind of documentation is what a personal injury attorney at cllblegal.com would look for in creating a case or a defense.
2. Precedent and Ongoing Lawsuits
The legal world turns on the concept of precedent: cases that came before and how they were handled/settled.
It’s been a while since the results of a pandemic needed to be litigated, so precedent is thin. Several current cases are being reviewed in regards to COVID-19 and are providing some idea as to how the Courts will move forward.
State common law does little to protect businesses, even those complying with guidelines. It’s typically considered better to deliver relief to individuals than companies. However, the ability to determine fault makes that fuzzy.
A case inside of a pork plant is drawing attention as to what working conditions are actionable. As details about the spread of the virus come to light, and safety recommendations improve, this type of case will be harder to bring to trial.
3. Risk Two-Ways
Staying closed, even if fiscally possible, still carries potential risk.
While customers and the public can’t sue a business for staying closed, given that they are not at risk, other businesses still can pursue cases.
Businesses are rarely a single entity but a web of vendors, clients, contracts, and more. Without a justifiable reason to remain closed, a business risks breach of contract with these external entities. Where state and local laws allow for a business to be operating, even if under limited conditions, not opening can be detrimental.
Opening too soon and not incorporating refreshed safety guidelines, such as limited hours, limited occupancy, and use of PPE can all put a business at risk.
4. Safety Guidelines
The government is seeking some injunctive relief to head off the ability of citizens to file claims against businesses for COVID-19 infections altogether. This relieves businesses of fault if they follow recommendations and guidelines.
Compliance with these guidelines has it’s own set of issues. If a business doesn’t adapt fast enough, it can still be liable.
It’s been seen in regards to warehouse legal liability that even providing safety equipment (PPE) isn’t enough. Workers also need to be trained in their use and signage needs to be posted to remind people of this.
Employees also have a responsibility to report if they are ill and to be immediately sent home to reduce exposure risk. Obviously, it’s difficult for an employee to know if they are ill as asymptomatic carriers continue to be a problem.
5. Waivers and Their Use
To avoid the gray areas presented by the issues listed above, some businesses are turning to liability waivers.
Waivers have been used in certain areas to provide better language to bolster what liability insurance covers and what it won’t.
Both employees and customers can be subject to waivers if they are introduced. Though the language changes, most waivers put restrictions on a person’s actions and shift fault for injury to that party.
Compulsory waivers have their own list of problems and for a business such as a shopping market, or others that don’t ‘invite’ customers in, this can be seen as an obstruction. This effects any business that doesn’t allow people to enter, when it normally would do so.
That should give you a leg-up on considering the liability ramifications for your business. The legal liability definition is certainly subject to change as the epitome response continues.
Keep yourself informed and on top of the issues. We can help, come back here for more facts and news about the world.