Covering Your Bases: The Legal Liability of Reopening
What has shaken the global community to its core, most prominently, is the rising death toll caused by COVID-19. However, the impacts of the global pandemic extend far beyond just the emergency medical and healthcare industries. It's radically changed the workplace environment, caused more than 30 million people to file for unemployment benefits, and rattled the service industry (airlines, tourism, retail, etc.). Naturally, with a situation as unprecedented as the corona virus, the unpredictability has trigged a series of of lawsuits from the individual to the federal level and litigation directly related to COVID-19 is expected to continue for the new few years, at least.
One could postulate that, because of the quarantine mandates (that are necessary and have helped many countries control the spread of the virus), this particular crisis has drastically changed our day-to-day. With companies furloughing, cutting costs and even closing permanently, the economy has taken a major hit — reflected in both climbing unemployment rates and the tumultuous state of the market. Social distance regulations keep community members away from their places of worship, children out of schools and summer camps, and restaurants, stores and theaters virtually empty. This level of disruption is bound to cause fissures in professional and legal relationships over issues of quotidian nature, such as cancellation fees and price changes — not to mention the more serious issues of health and life insurance, severance pay, and wrongful death.
The following is a list, assembled and updated by The National Law Review, of industries and affiliated complications that have seen an increase in filed cases as a result of COVID-19. These cases were made on the basis of (including, but not limited to) data privacy, resource accessibility, unexpected financial inability, unpredicted and uncompensated layoffs, course cancellations without tuition reduction or student visa protection, deposit returns and future services, contract breaches, lack of personal protective equipment and over all gross negligence:
1. CARES Act Payroll Protection Program
2. Banking & Debt Relief
5. Travel Cancellation
6. Event Cancellation & Service Disruption
7. Memberships, Services, and Subscriptions
8. Government & Civil Rights
9. Prisoner and Detainee Release
10. State and Federal Executive Orders and Government Actions
11. Foreign Government and NGO Actions
12. Healthcare Providers and Nursing Facilities
14. Privacy and Cybersecurity
15. Product Pricing, Marketing & Labeling
16. Shareholder and Securities Litigation
17. Transmission and Exacerbation of COVID-19
18. Website, Digital, and Physical Accessibility
The severity and complexity of legal action, particularly in such an uncertain time, is something that businesses want to avoid at all costs. Some businesses are trying to weaken and side step laws that protect workers and consumers while others are getting caught in legal proceedings because they just weren't prepared and informed enough in their decision making the past 6 months. Thus, legal liability should be a top priority for companies hoping to operate, let alone prosper, in the "new normal."
It can be overwhelming for businesses, particularly smaller ones, to make sure they are conducting their company in a safe and lawful manner and it feels like there's no "right way." From making sure you're expecting and compensating a reasonable amount of hourly work to providing the proper quantity and quality of personal protective equipment (PPE), it's a lot to keep track off. However, none of it matters unless your business is able to address and ameliorate health concerns: in most cases, coronavirus victims and their families alleged that their workplaces failed to protect them, subjecting them to unsafe conditions and failing to keep track of infection and transmission within the company or workplace.
One of the most alarming aspects of COVID-19 is the combination of its contagious but often asymptomatic nature. It's possible to be exposed to, contract, spread and recover from it without even knowing — making transmission tracking even more difficult. This means that businesses must have a method for monitoring the health exposure and symptoms of employees and guests as well as a notification system that keeps all parties informed, in case of an outbreak.
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