Today we are discussing premises liability and COVID-19.
Covid-19 presents a frightening time for Missouri businesses as they fear not only a loss of demand due to reduced traffic because of the pandemic, but many business owners may also fear that being open to a busy public also opens them up to legal liability. What happens if a customer gets exposed to COVID-19 in my business and gets sick? Does my business face liability for someone’s medical bills, lost wages, or even death?
Business Owners Must Make Their Premises Safe For Customers In Missouri
In Missouri, a business owner has a responsibility to make their premises safe for their customers – or invitees. When a dangerous condition does exist on their premises, the property owner is required to warn visitors of the dangerous condition and to fix any dangers within a reasonable amount of time.
At Cantor Injury Law we are more concerned with insurance companies that do not pay for business interruptions when affected by COVID-19 than we are with lawsuits against small business owners.
Businesses are shielded without a warning as they have “no duty to warn of a danger when the injured party has actual knowledge of the danger.” Shine v. Sw. Bell Tel. Co. (Mo App. ED 1987). However, while the risks of Coronavirus are well-known to the general public, the specific risk of contracting Covid-19 in an individual business may not be well known. A business that operates open to the public and knows that an employee has COVID-19 may be liable should that employee transmit the virus to another person without warning.
This broad duty owed to customers of retail businesses may seem like a daunting task to a small business attempting to combat the dangers of a global virus. To quell those fears, Congress has proposed liability protections for businesses as a portion of the next round of economic stimulus.
But Even Without Said Protections, Missouri Business Owners Are Likely Shielded From Liability By Taking A Few Measures:
- Warning customers that the risk of Covid-19 transmission is present in any public space, including their business.
- Requiring masks be worn by employees, customers, and any other guests of the business’s premises.
- Following social distancing guidelines as to occupancy and spacing.
- Informing customers of any potential exposure by keeping a log of all guests and employees by gathering their contact information and time they were at your business.
- Prohibiting sick employees from working and requiring they quarantine and follow public health guidelines.
- Closing the business for a reasonable amount of time after an exposure.
- Adhering to any additional federal, state, or local safety guidelines.
The answers to COVID-19 are not one-size-fits-all and are going to differ based on the local risks of exposure; however, the more reasonable measures a business takes to protect its consumers, the more shielded a business is.