Last month, the Governor of Texas urged our state’s Legislature to pass measures providing liability protections for businesses who otherwise would face lawsuits related to COVID-19.
Deeming it urgent to pass legislation on this topic, the Governor said he wanted to see a law that would grant immunity from civil liability for those businesses which made good faith efforts to follow the state’s rules and protect their customers and others.
Some business organizations seconded the Governor’s remarks, which he made at his annual State of the State speech. Spokespeople for these organizations suggested that liability protection was important to these business’s economic health.
How could someone be liable for COVID-19?
At first, it might seem strange that liability protection for COVID-19 is a topic of discussion at all since COVID-19 is a natural disaster that is not really in control of anyone.
However, businesses have duties under federal law to maintain safe and healthy workplaces. Rules enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, require employers to have protections against certain infectious diseases.
OSHA recently released guidelines about how companies can protect those who work for and with them from COVID-19.
Employees who get exposed to COVID-19 while at work may be able to obtain workers’ compensation benefits.
However, it is important to remember that many other people, independent contractors, vendors and customers, for example, also may frequent a company’s premises and thus may risk exposure.
Austin residents know full well that, for too many people, serious cases of COVID-19 will leave them either dead or effectively out of commission for weeks or even months. They will no doubt require compensation for lost wages, medical bills and other expenses and damages.
It is hard to say exactly what form these liability protections will take in this state. Hopefully, victims who need and deserve compensation will still be able to seek it through appropriate civil litigation.