Stephen Hasner | News | August 5, 2020
The number of COVID-19 cases in Georgia continues to surge. The state has now passed 150,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus. As the number of new cases continues to rise and medical providers sound the alarm about hospitals running out of room for new patients, the Georgia legislature has passed a new bill providing COVID-19 lawsuit protections for many Georgia businesses.
Protection From COVID-19 Lawsuits in Georgia
The Georgia legislature passed a bill that limits the liability businesses and individuals have regarding the spread of COVID-19. As you may expect, there are strong opinions on both sides of the debate about protecting companies from COVID-19 claims filed by workers, customers, and others.
Senate Bill 359 (SB 359), entitled “Georgia COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act, includes similar provisions of other COVID-19 lawsuit protection bills introduced in other states. Governor Brian Kemp has not signed the bill as of this date.
However, the bill contains a provision that states the law becomes effective upon being signed by Gov. Kemp, or becomes law without the Governor’s signature on August 7, 2020. Therefore, even if Gov. Kemp does not sign SB 359, it is scheduled to become effective by August 7, 2020. The law would apply to any claims through July 14, 2021.
Who is Protected by the Georgia COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act?
SB 359 protects “covered entities” from claims by individuals or family members of deceased individuals seeking to recover compensation for damages in a COVID-19 liability claim. The list of covered entities is extensive. It includes:
- Health care facilities
- Medical providers
- Limited Liability Companies
- Religious organizations
- Educational organizations
- Political subdivisions
- Volunteer organizations
- Government offices
- Counties and municipalities
The protection also extends to the managers, officers, employees, directors, vendors, contractors, trustees, agents, officials, independent contractors, and others working for the protected entity.
In other words, SB 359 prevents a person from seeking compensation for damages caused by contracting COVID-19, with very few exceptions. It also prevents wrongful death claims by family members.
When Can I Sue a Company for Exposure to COVID-19?
The new law imposes a higher standard for recovering compensation for claims related to COVID-19 transmission. A person must now show that the company or individual protected from liability acted with “gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, reckless infliction of harm, or intentional infliction of harm.” The standard for proving liability in COVID-19 cases will become extremely challenging.
Additionally, the law adds another defense to protect companies, medical providers, and individuals from liability for COVID-19 claims. It adds an assumption of risk defense for parties who provide the required warning to individuals before they enter the premises.
The warning can be printed on a receipt or other document required for entry and provided to the person. The warning must read:
“Any person entering the premises waives all civil liability against this premises owner and operator for any injuries caused by the inherent risk associated with contracting COVID-19 at public gatherings, except for gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, reckless infliction of harm, or intentional infliction of harm, by the individual or entity of the premises.”
The entity or individual may also post at the point of entry a warning to satisfy the law’s requirement regarding the assumption of risk. Warnings posted at the points of entry must state:
“Warning – Under Georgia law, there is no liability for an injury or death of an individual entering these premises if such injury or death results from the inherent risks of contracting COVID-19. You are assuming this risk by entering these premises.”
When an entity or individual provides proper notice of the assumption of risk, the defense can be used in addition to the immunities contained in SB 359.
Premises Liability Laws in Georgia
Premises liability refers to personal injury claims involving injuries occurring on another person’s or entity’s property. In most cases, a property owner must take reasonable steps to maintain the property so that the property is safe for others. If the property owner fails in this duty of care, the owner can be held liable for damages caused by an accident or injury.
For example, if a person slips and falls at the grocery store because the store failed to repair damaged flooring, the store could be liable for that person’s damages. Other examples of premises liability accidents include, but are not limited to:
- Dog attacks
- Exposure to toxic chemicals
- Swimming pool accidents
- Inadequate security or lighting
- Elevator and escalator accidents
- Falling objects
- Defective or damaged railing and steps
- Tripping hazards
The passage of the new COVID-19 law makes it more difficult for individuals to seek compensation from negligent entities and individuals. However, exposure to a deadly disease could be a reason for a premises liability claim or a workers’ compensation claim.