As life slowly begins to return to normal and restrictions on business activities are lifted, many businesses may be concerned about a COVID-19 lawsuit. What if a customer gets sick with Covid-19 after shopping in a store or eating at a restaurant? Can the store or restaurant be held liable? To date, there have been less than 50 lawsuits filed nationwide seeking damages for Covid-19 illness or death, and almost half of those claims were against Princess Cruise Lines. But that does not mean that there won’t be more claims in the future.
Under New York law, business establishments, organizations and individuals have a duty to prevent the transmission of an infectious disease. That duty can be satisfied by taking reasonable measures to prevent transmission of a disease. Past claims for negligent infection have been made by healthcare workers who contracted AIDS after being stuck with a needle and people who acquired a sexually transmitted disease from an infected but secretive partner. All of these cases were based on negligence, and involved some form of allegation that the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care which resulted in the plaintiff being infected.
In theory, negligence claims like these could be asserted against the owner of any store, salon, restaurant, shopping mall or university. The list of defendants is nearly limitless. Below are some practical considerations and legal defenses that should make a Covid-19 lawsuit less virulent than the disease.