Could a business be held liable if a customer gets sick with coronavirus?

Reporter: Anika Henanger Writer: Jackie Winchester
Credit: WINK News

Once businesses reopen, what happens if a customer gets the coronavirus and contact tracers trace the patient back to a business? Could it be held liable?

Attorney Robert Goodman said we will likely see those lawsuits, but it will all boil down to proof of who and where someone may have gotten the virus from. He added that when you head out of your house at all, you’re assuming some risk.

“The hard part would be to prove that you got the coronavirus when you were at this certain establishment,” Goodman said.

Or even caught it from an employee. But what about catching it from another customer, or from someone at the gas station?

“It could have been four other places you visited that same day or the day before,” Goodman said.

For Floridians who might get sick on the job, worker’s compensation is a possibility.

“The only thing you can do when you’re an employee and you get sick or injured as a result of your occupation at work is to go through worker’s comp,” Goodman said.

John Weiland, owner/operator of Gene and Gerald’s Barber Shop in Fort Myers, is in one of many industries that cannot social distance on the job.

“As far as the barbers that work with me … I mean, I’m not going to put them under any pressure if they don’t want to come back to work because they don’t feel comfortable doing so,” Weiland said.

It will be all about safety at the barbershop when it reopens.

“Start wearing gloves, make that mandatory for our barbers, masks for us. If customers want to bring in their own masks, that’s fine to make themselves feel more safe.”

Bonnie Grunberg, co-owner of the Oasis Restaurant in downtown Fort Myers, said safety is one of the reasons the popular restaurant closed its door.

“If something happened to one of our employees because they were working, that would be a lot to live with,” she said.

Grunberg said she doesn’t take the decision to reopen lightly.

“It was a big decision to close and it’s a bigger decision to open.”

In fact, even if the government gives them the OK to open the dining room, Oasis will have to think about it.

“I truly am at my wit’s end over what’s going to be the best decision to make,” Grunberg said.

Grunberg said there isn’t a business that wouldn’t want to be protected from lawsuits stemming from someone getting sick, and some lawmakers are discussing legal protection for businesses. That has not moved forward yet.

One thing most businesses have, though, is liability insurance that would likely kick in if any legal issues arose.

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