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Tricia Dunlap, Esq.

~4 minute read

3 Tips to Prevent Coronavirus Lawsuits

Coronavirus lawsuits are pretty hyped in the news lately and if you’re a business owner you might even be a little freaked out about it. I’m here to tell you that it’s a harder case to win than the news makes it seem. Here are three points that give you a basic understanding and peace of mind about coronavirus lawsuits.

1. Prove They Got Coronavirus At Your Business

Any plaintiff is going to have to show that they got the virus at your establishment and not somewhere else. That’s going to be really hard to show because the virus is everywhere. How can they possibly prove that they picked it up at your restaurant, retail store, or office building rather than at the grocery store or beach or wherever else they might have been.

2. Must Prove Negligence

They have to show that you were negligent. What that means is that you either did something you shouldn’t have done or you failed to do something that you should have done. They must prove a reasonable person either would have done these things or would not have done these things. It depends on whether it’s an act that somebody did that was negligent or a failure to act that was negligent. Either one of those could be negligence.

In my posts on reopening after coronavirus (part 1 and part 2), I urged business owners to really carefully consider their operations and how they’re running their business before they reopen. If you have fully evaluated all of your operations including your policies, your day-to-day practices, and then amended those so that they’re aligned with CDC and Health Department guidelines, then you’ve taken the first few steps. This shows that you took the actions a reasonable person would take to reduce the risk.

It’s important that you continue to track CDC and Health Department guidelines so that if those change you can revise your business practices accordingly. Those are the things that you can do to show that you’ve taken reasonable steps to mitigate the risk of the virus. It will help protect you against any kind of claim that might be made.

You could also document the date that you pulled down CDC guidance from their website and then document all of the steps that you took to change your business practices. Keep a file for all of that and then as you revisit all of these CDC and Health Department guidelines continue to build the file as you go. That shows that you’re diligent.

Those are the two things that a plaintiff would have to show but even if you did get sued and needed to defend yourself there’s an argument that you can make that could help you win the lawsuit and, in Virginia at least, it’s a get-out-of-jail-free card.

3. Contributory Negligence

It’s called contributory negligence and here’s how it works. Let’s pretend that I’m driving down the street and I misjudge my merging space and hit another car. I’m at fault for that because I was negligent. But let’s say the other driver was looking down at her phone and she was texting. She’s also at fault for it because she contributed to her own harm. That’s contributory negligence.

In Virginia, unlike most states, this knocks out a plaintiff’s case completely. If a plaintiff contributed to their own harm in Virginia they’re done. Go home. In other states it’s not quite that simple.

Typically, they will divide up the amount of harm. How much of the harm was caused by the defendant? How much was caused by the plaintiff? But in Virginia it’s a knock out so you could easily argue that a person who got coronavirus got it because they were at the Virginia Beach boardwalk without a mask having a good time. Or maybe they were at an open-air party with 50 other people and didn’t have a mask, and you know all of this because it’s all over their social media. That could easily give you an argument that they contributed to their own harm and they’re also negligent.

These are three things that you can think about and give yourself a little peace of mind. A coronavirus lawsuit against your business is a harder case to prove than it might appear.

If you need help with handling a coronavirus lawsuit, I hope you’ll get in touch.

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