Beware of the Reopening
The President has just announced guidelines for "reopening" the country, and it seems certain that Texas state government will fall in line with them. As your business gears up for "normal" activity, you will have to add to your list of worries the legal risks of reopening. Walmart has already been sued by the family of a deceased employee, claiming that the company's failure to provide a safe working environment caused him to contract a fatal case of COVID-19. The family specifically alleges that Walmart failed to provide personal protective equipment, enforce distancing guidelines and properly sanitize the store. Likewise, Princess Cruise Lines has been sued by the widow of a gentleman that allegedly contracted the virus and passed away on a cruise from San Francisco.
The quick and simple lesson is, if you choose to reopen, IMPLEMENT AND ENFORCE the federal guidelines. You can read them here. Explain them to your employees and discipline those that don't follow them. Come up with one or two of your own and implement those as well. Insist that your customers, and anyone else that comes into your business follow them! Ask them to leave if they refuse. In any future lawsuit brought against you by an employee, or customer, or guest, the question the jury will be asked is "did your company exercise ordinary care" to reduce COVID-19 risks. You want to be able to truthfully tell the jury "Yes! We implemented every policy suggested by the President, Governor Abbott and the city. And we went even further by coming up with extra steps of our own!"
There will be serious and legitimate cases brought against businesses. But there will also be opportunists who will search for a "deep pocket" to blame their illness on. Technically, ANYONE who has COVID-like symptoms could sue (even without a positive test result) and claim that the illness was COVID and was contracted at your business. Whether they would win is a different matter. But again, the lesson is to prepare and minimize your business as a target.
For employers, check your workers compensation policy (if you have one) and talk to your agent about coverage for employee COVID claims. If you don't have workers comp, familiarize yourself with the general duties owed by employers to their employees. Also check your general liability policies to see whether they provide coverage for claims brought by customers and others that come into your business.
Please feel free to pass this onto anyone you think might be helped by it. Our firm is up and running, and not going anywhere. Call us if you have questions, and please stay safe.
THE LAW OFFICE OF PHIL GRIFFIS