As Georgia businesses take the lead in reopening ahead of many other states, a new law has granted protection from civil lawsuits related to COVID-19. This piece of legislation named The Georgia COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act (GCPBSA) protects both businesses and individuals in cases caused by infection or exposure to COVID-19. The GCPBSA will prove to be beneficial for many businesses across the state; however, there are many nuances and requirements that must be understood in order to fully benefit from this newfound protection.
How does the GCPBSA affect the burden of proof?
In most civil cases, the defendant would be required to prove that the plaintiff assumed the risk of exposure upon entering the premises. The business facing the litigation would have to provide proof that the plaintiff was aware of the risk, understood the danger, and exposed themselves to said risk voluntarily. Under the GCPBSA, the burden of proof falls elsewhere; instead, the plaintiff presenting a case regarding COVID-19 exposure would be required to prove that they did not assume the risk of transmission. The inability to do so would be advantageous for the accused business. It is important to note that the reversal of the burden of proof in these cases will not be applicable to accusals of intentional or negligent harm or misconduct.
What must employers do to ensure protection?
There is specific language that must be clearly displayed to customers in the form of signage or receipts to obtain protection under the GCPBSA. Businesses that sell tickets for entry or proof of purchase must print the warning on such documents. Regardless of whether or not that applies to your business, it is advised that all employers post cautionary signage to storefronts and entrances. The warning is as follows:
Any person entering the premises waives all civil liability against this premises owner and operator for any injuries caused by the inherent risk associated with contracting COVID-19 at public gatherings, except for gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, reckless infliction of harm, or intentional infliction of harm, by the individual or entity of the premises.
No matter what actions you take to establish protection under the GCPBSA, businesses are obligated to take reasonable steps to protect their customers and employees. For further guidance, OSHA and the CDC have posted guidelines for all organizations; Georgia businesses must also comply with rules and regulations set by Governor Kemp. Taking all possible precautions is the safest way for businesses to secure their protection under the GCPBSA.