Can South Carolina Businesses That Blatantly Disregard Public Health Guidelines Be Held Liable for the Spread of Covid-19?

The Covid-19 pandemic took the country by storm last year and, unfortunately, does not yet appear to be on its way out. With the discovery of new vaccine-resistant variants and the lack of a vaccine approved for young children, the virus will, in all likelihood, continue to spread. One question that often comes up when discussing the spread of Covid-19 is whether businesses can be held legally responsible for failing to take the necessary steps to prevent their employees, customers, and the general public from being exposed. However, with the passage of the South Carolina COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor Act earlier this year, many of these questions have been answered.

What Is the South Carolina COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor Act?

At the beginning of the year, several South Carolina lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 147, also known as the South Carolina COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor Act. On April 28, 2021, Governor McMaster signed the bill into law.

The law is intended to limit the situations in which businesses can be held liable for Covid-19-related claims. In a subsequent press release, Governor McMaster explained,

“South Carolina’s businesses and medical professionals stood on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic adapting to ever-changing safety measures to protect their employees, customers, and community… As they protected us, it is now time we return the favor and protect them from frivolous lawsuits brought on by COVID-19. The COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor Act carries on our rich tradition of common sense, pro-business legislation – which companies from around the world have come to recognize – bringing more jobs and investment to South Carolina.”

The thought behind the Safe Harbor Act appears to be that businesses who are following the appropriate public health guidelines should not face what could very likely be substantial liability based on the unpreventable spread of Covid-19.

How Does the Safe Harbor Act Work?

The Safe Harbor Act conveys broad immunity to any individual or entity that “adheres to public health guidelines” that were applicable at the time a potential claim arose. However, the Act does not provide immunity from all Covid-19-related claims. A business can still be liable if it fails to take the necessary precautions to avoid spreading the virus.

More specifically, the Safe Harbor Act gives immunity to all businesses unless one of the following is true:

• The business caused an injury due to conduct that was “grossly negligent, reckless, intentional or willful;” or
• The business failed to make any attempt to adhere to the public health guidance available at the time.

For claims against healthcare providers, either of these exceptions must be established by a preponderance of the evidence. However, for all other claims, the party bringing the claim must meet the much stricter “clear and convincing evidence” standard.

In terms of proving a Covid-19-related claim, determining whether a business failed to make an effort to comply with current public health standards is relatively straightforward. However, this language does little to clarify the situations in which a business that did comply can be liable for the spread of Covid-19. Courts reviewing these claims will have to look at the business’ conduct to determine if it was “grossly negligent, reckless, intentional or willful.” In most cases, parties bringing these claims will proceed under a theory that a business or healthcare provider was “grossly negligent” or “reckless.”

Businesses May Be Liable for Their Blatant Disregard of Public Health Guidelines

The language of the South Carolina COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor Act may not provide much guidance on when businesses can be held legally responsible for the spread of Covid-19. However, the phrases “grossly negligent” and “reckless” are legal terms used in other contexts. For example, gross negligence involves conduct that disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm. Put more clearly, a business that blatantly disregarded the common knowledge about Covid-19 available at the time would likely not be entitled to immunity.

For example, assume a business took steps to appear compliant by putting up signs indicating masks were required and supplied hand sanitizer stations. However, in practice, the business did not enforce the requirement among customers and employees. Additionally, the business never ordered hand sanitizer to refill the dispensers after they ran out. Weeks go by, and someone not wearing a mask spreads Covid-19 to several employees and customers. In this case, the business may not be entitled to immunity because, although it appeared to follow the public health guidance, in reality, it showed blatant disregard for the safety of its employees and customers. This is just one example; however, as more Covid-19-related claims begin to make their way through the system, courts will provide guidance through judicial decisions that will further illuminate when businesses can be held liable for the spread of Covid-19. Ultimately, these cases rely on the chain of transmission, which can be difficult if not impossible to prove. 

Have You Been Diagnosed With COVID-19 Due to a Business’s Failure To Take the Necessary Precautions?

If you believe that you contracted Covid-19 at work, contact the South Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Steinberg Law Firm. If you think that your Covid-19 diagnosis was due to negligence of a business you were a customer at, reach out to the Steinberg Law Firm’s personal injury attorneys to discuss your potential case.

At the Steinberg Law Firm, we have been on the cutting edge of personal injury law for more than 90 years. Over this time, our lawyers have earned a reputation for being honest, aggressive, and dedicated advocates who always put our clients’ interests first. As we all continue to deal with the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, Steinberg Law Firm is here to support you in any way we can. To learn more and schedule a free consultation with one of our South Carolina personal injury lawyers, give us a call at 843-720-2800 today. You can also reach us through our online contact form.

RESULTS

WE HAVE RECOVERED OVER $500 MILLION FOR CLIENTS IN THE LAST 10 YEARS, INCLUDING:
$2,750,000 in a product defect case, scissor lift malfunction.

Can South Carolina Businesses That Blatantly Disregard Public Health Guidelines Be Held Liable for the Spread of Covid-19?

The Covid-19 pandemic took the country by storm last year and, unfortunately, does not yet appear to be on its way out. With the discovery of new vaccine-resistant variants and the lack of a vaccine approved for young children, the virus will, in all likelihood, continue to spread. One question that often comes up when discussing the spread of Covid-19 is whether businesses can be held legally responsible for failing to take the necessary steps to prevent their employees, customers, and the general public from being exposed. However, with the passage of the South Carolina COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor Act earlier this year, many of these questions have been answered.

What Is the South Carolina COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor Act?

At the beginning of the year, several South Carolina lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 147, also known as the South Carolina COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor Act. On April 28, 2021, Governor McMaster signed the bill into law.

The law is intended to limit the situations in which businesses can be held liable for Covid-19-related claims. In a subsequent press release, Governor McMaster explained,

“South Carolina’s businesses and medical professionals stood on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic adapting to ever-changing safety measures to protect their employees, customers, and community… As they protected us, it is now time we return the favor and protect them from frivolous lawsuits brought on by COVID-19. The COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor Act carries on our rich tradition of common sense, pro-business legislation – which companies from around the world have come to recognize – bringing more jobs and investment to South Carolina.”

The thought behind the Safe Harbor Act appears to be that businesses who are following the appropriate public health guidelines should not face what could very likely be substantial liability based on the unpreventable spread of Covid-19.

How Does the Safe Harbor Act Work?

The Safe Harbor Act conveys broad immunity to any individual or entity that “adheres to public health guidelines” that were applicable at the time a potential claim arose. However, the Act does not provide immunity from all Covid-19-related claims. A business can still be liable if it fails to take the necessary precautions to avoid spreading the virus.

More specifically, the Safe Harbor Act gives immunity to all businesses unless one of the following is true:

• The business caused an injury due to conduct that was “grossly negligent, reckless, intentional or willful;” or
• The business failed to make any attempt to adhere to the public health guidance available at the time.

For claims against healthcare providers, either of these exceptions must be established by a preponderance of the evidence. However, for all other claims, the party bringing the claim must meet the much stricter “clear and convincing evidence” standard.

In terms of proving a Covid-19-related claim, determining whether a business failed to make an effort to comply with current public health standards is relatively straightforward. However, this language does little to clarify the situations in which a business that did comply can be liable for the spread of Covid-19. Courts reviewing these claims will have to look at the business’ conduct to determine if it was “grossly negligent, reckless, intentional or willful.” In most cases, parties bringing these claims will proceed under a theory that a business or healthcare provider was “grossly negligent” or “reckless.”

Businesses May Be Liable for Their Blatant Disregard of Public Health Guidelines

The language of the South Carolina COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor Act may not provide much guidance on when businesses can be held legally responsible for the spread of Covid-19. However, the phrases “grossly negligent” and “reckless” are legal terms used in other contexts. For example, gross negligence involves conduct that disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm. Put more clearly, a business that blatantly disregarded the common knowledge about Covid-19 available at the time would likely not be entitled to immunity.

For example, assume a business took steps to appear compliant by putting up signs indicating masks were required and supplied hand sanitizer stations. However, in practice, the business did not enforce the requirement among customers and employees. Additionally, the business never ordered hand sanitizer to refill the dispensers after they ran out. Weeks go by, and someone not wearing a mask spreads Covid-19 to several employees and customers. In this case, the business may not be entitled to immunity because, although it appeared to follow the public health guidance, in reality, it showed blatant disregard for the safety of its employees and customers. This is just one example; however, as more Covid-19-related claims begin to make their way through the system, courts will provide guidance through judicial decisions that will further illuminate when businesses can be held liable for the spread of Covid-19. Ultimately, these cases rely on the chain of transmission, which can be difficult if not impossible to prove. 

Have You Been Diagnosed With COVID-19 Due to a Business’s Failure To Take the Necessary Precautions?

If you believe that you contracted Covid-19 at work, contact the South Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Steinberg Law Firm. If you think that your Covid-19 diagnosis was due to negligence of a business you were a customer at, reach out to the Steinberg Law Firm’s personal injury attorneys to discuss your potential case.

At the Steinberg Law Firm, we have been on the cutting edge of personal injury law for more than 90 years. Over this time, our lawyers have earned a reputation for being honest, aggressive, and dedicated advocates who always put our clients’ interests first. As we all continue to deal with the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, Steinberg Law Firm is here to support you in any way we can. To learn more and schedule a free consultation with one of our South Carolina personal injury lawyers, give us a call at 843-720-2800 today. You can also reach us through our online contact form.

RESULTS

WE HAVE RECOVERED OVER $500 MILLION FOR CLIENTS IN THE LAST 10 YEARS, INCLUDING:
$2,750,000 in a product defect case, scissor lift malfunction.

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