Am I liable if a visitor or guest contracts the virus on my premises? What if I am unaware that I or any of my employees have the virus and we are all asymptomatic?
As a business owner, you have a legal duty to ensure the safety of your customers and third party visitors who are visiting and present on your premises. To the extent a customer or third party were to contract the COVID-19 virus from direct exposure on your premises, your business could face tort liability. In any such claim, the threshold issue will be what a business owner knew about the virus and when and what actions it took in response to its presence and whether those actions were reasonable. Tort liability would be more likely if a business owner had actual knowledge of the presence of coronavirus at its premises due to the existence of infected individuals or virus being physically present on surfaces in the premises and yet allowed third parties to be exposed. Of course, it may be a difficult burden for many claimants to show that they were infected at a particular location and as such a showing will additionally require expert testimony, given a variety of other possible exposure pathways. Most of these types of claims will be fact-intensive.
Note that premises owners will not be able to avoid liability simply because an exposed individual has a weakened state due to other health conditions. Ultimately, at this stage and given the unknowns about the virus, if a business owner has knowledge of an infected individual present on the premises, that individual should be prohibited from the premises and business owners should eliminate direct physical contact with customers and third parties whenever possible.
This is a fluid and rapidly changing situation and these resources are current only as of the date of publication. We recommend that you contact your local Quarles & Brady attorney regarding the most up-to-date information or with any other questions regarding this subject matter, or contact Patrick Nolan: (414) 277-5465 / [email protected].