Now that parts of the economy are opening up, we’re starting to see the opening up of the courts as well. We’re continuing to see rising cases of Covid-19 which has claimed 155,000 lives in the US since March and 9,000 lives in Canada.
With that we’re starting to see litigation associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. A report in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday reported that hundreds of lawsuits have been filed for damages caused by the pandemic.
Employers across the country are being sued by the families of workers who contend their loved ones contracted lethal cases of Covid-19 on the job, a new legal front that shows the risks of reopening workplaces.
Walmart, Safeway, Tyson Foods, and some health-care facilities have been sued for gross negligence or wrongful death since the coronavirus pandemic began unfolding in March. Employees’ loved ones contend the companies failed to protect workers and should compensate their family members as a result. Workers who survived the virus also are suing to have medical bills, future earnings and other damages paid out. Fortunately, we haven’t had any outbreaks in our facilities.
There are stories in the WSJ article that frankly are heartbreaking. There are stories of people who were told to report to work or be fired. Some employees were told that protective masks would not help and not to wear a mask.
Clearly we have millions of people who have been exposed to a high risk pathogen without the appropriate precautions. But this is not just an issue of workplace safety. The virus doesn’t care if you’re at home, at work, at a social event, lounging by the swimming pool. If you’re a tenant in a multi-family apartment complex, you need to feel safe in your own home. You need to be safe in the common areas.
If it can be shown that a landlord acted negligently and a tenant slips and falls on an icy walkway, you can expect a lawsuit. It stands to reason that if you follow the same chain of logic that if a tenant uses the gym amenities and contracts Covid-19, then there might be a case against the landlord. The risk of lawsuit is very real.
If you own a multi-tenant building, whether it’s an office building, or a residential building, you have risk of litigation if someone gets sick. You need to make sure that common areas and public bathrooms have a much higher standard of cleaning than normal.
There is a real cost to these additional protocols. In the office building that I manage, we have instructed members of the public who might enter the building to call in advance. They are to wait in their car until their appointment. They will be escorted into the building and directly into their appointment. The waiting rooms are closed, the chairs are off limits with yellow caution tape.
Senior homes are another area of risk. There have been numerous outbreaks in nursing homes in Europe, Canada and the US. Tragically, these outbreaks have ripped through the populations in these long term care facilities and the loss of life has been staggering. Here too, this is an area of risk.
What about hotels? The common areas, the food and beverage establishments all represent an area of risk.
The legal system is all about what you can prove. It’s not about what you know, it’s what can be independently verified. You definitely want to strengthen your cleaning and sanitizing protocols. That alone may not be enough to prevent you from being sued. It’s important to post placards and communicate your policies. If you’re communicating what you’re doing, and documenting it, there’s no guarantee that it will be enough to prevent someone from becoming sick. But it becomes harder for someone to argue that you were negligent.