Recently, we were notified of an incident whereby a customer sneezed and coughed on other customers, claiming to be infected with the Coronavirus. Incidents like this, of which a few have appeared in the media also, raise the question – Can patrons sue you if they catch the Coronavirus, or are assaulted whilst shopping?
In these unprecedented times – these are valid concerns held by many of our corporate clients in the retail, pub and hotel, leisure, airport and aged care facility industries. As some are noticing less foot traffic and business interruption is front of mind – there is also some confusion as to what impact, if any, the Coronavirus will have on public liability. We have seen claims made before relating to diseases spread by needle stick injuries or air conditioning units, and therefore a claim coming out of this pandemic is not far fetched. Therefore we recommend our clients be best prepared to reduce their public liability exposure. We discussed the possible avenues for plaintiffs with Tony Kulukovski, Partner at Thompson Cooper Lawyers – who shared similar concerns.
In order for a plaintiff to successfully prove that your business breached a reasonable duty of care and are negligent – it has to prove causation. That is – that you not only owed a duty of care, but that the failure in fulfilling this duty caused the injury; which will be difficult to prove, as it will not be easy for people to determine how and when they contracted the disease. However, if you were aware that customers or staff had the Coronavirus (or should have been aware) and then still invited the plaintiff to enter your premises, then there remains the possibility that a creative plaintiff lawyer may try to litigate and allege that these situations were forseeable. It is therefore important that you carry out safety measures in line with the changing government regulations, whether you are a shopping centre, aged care facility, or any number of other service continuing essential trade during this period.
Unfortunately we have seen in the media the chaos in some retail centres as people panic buy. There is heightened anxiety and if a customer was assaulted at your store and injured then there is a possibility of a claim being made for those injuries. However, we would argue that you are not vicariously liable for the criminal actions of another, but questions around circumstances will remain.
To mitigate your risk we strongly recommend you take reasonable steps to respond to COVID-19. These include:
- Increase the current cleaning and sanitisation of your venues.
- Increase security.
- Adhere to the changing government regulations, prioritising understanding of and adherence to new directives as quickly as possible.
Tony Kulukowksi also shared some insights on the impact of Covid-19 on current litigation. More parties are asking to do settlement conferences by phone rather than in person which is not ideal in that it may reduce the chances of collaboration. Court Mentions are now all on-line. There is also a possibility of trials that are considered non-essential – being postponed. This will impact your long-tail claims exposure.
These are already strange and confusing times, and attempting to understanding the potential ramifications of COVID-19 on your liability exposure is sure only to complicate the matter further. Proclaim are experts in this field, and our Proclaimers pride themselves on their extensive knowledge. We know you have enough to consider in these turbulent times, and we want to help.
Please contact our team directly if you have any questions, or need any help in managing your liability incidents and claims. Contact information can be found below.
Let us take care of this for you, while you concentrate on everything else. We’ll do what we do best, so you can too.
Please direct enquiries and questions to Marianne Emerson at firstname.lastname@example.org