Some question whether coronavirus liability waivers will hold up in court

Posted at 3:27 PM, Jun 04, 2020

More businesses that are reopening are posting coronavirus disclaimers or requiring employees and customers to sign waivers, but there are questions about whether those waivers will actually protect businesses from liability.

“We don't know whether these liability waivers are going to hold up in court, if they're ever tested, but most states do enforce liability waivers, so as long as you understand the risks that you may encounter, the liability waiver only deals with negligence,” said Georgetown law professor David Vladeck. “That is, acts that are irresponsible but not intentional.”

Vladeck, a former director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, says he thinks there's some benefit in businesses having these coronavirus notices. It's a way for businesses to acknowledge they're doing what they can to protect you. However, there are no guarantees because of the unpredictability of the virus.

Some businesses want further protections from lawsuits.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and state business groups are asking Congress for temporary liability relief. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he wants this in the next coronavirus stimulus bill. Democrats have opposed sweeping protections.

Vladeck says they're not needed.

“For individuals, the transmissibility of this virus means that it's really difficult, if not impossible, to figure out where someone contracted the virus,” said Vladeck. “And so, in order for an individual to sue, let’s say a restaurant or a retail shop, they would have to be able to prove that their virus was contracted in that space.”

Vladeck says we've seen very few coronavirus-related personal injury lawsuits so far.

He says the only situations where people may have claims because they can prove they were infected due to negligence are in places like nursing homes, prisons and cruise ships, because you're not able to leave those places.