More and more states are adopting a broad framework of protections that shield businesses from civil liability claims resulting from customer or employee exposure to COVID-19. Since May, more than 15 states have enacted statutory language which exempts businesses that follow federal, state and local health and safety guidelines, while properly keeping the focus on gross negligence or willful misconduct and holding businesses to account for these actions.
Business liability protections will help to maintain the viability of the rental housing industry during these difficult times. Litigation can be a long and costly process and place greater financial strain on housing providers, who are already inundated with emergency mandates that have increased demands on their operational capacity and could jeopardize their financial solvency.
Many housing providers already operate on slim margins and cannot withstand the high costs to defend against unfounded litigation. The fact remains that housing providers have little control over their residents’ behavior, and particularly in high density apartments and cities, it would be difficult to pinpoint the exact source of an incident of exposure. This makes the task to defend against a complaint more arduous.
While the National Apartment Association (NAA) is encouraged by the work of state lawmakers to support the revitalization of America’s economy and promote certainty, more can and should be done to protect businesses nationwide. NAA continues to advocate for a federal standard as outlined in the SAFE TO WORK Act and urges Congress to include language in its next relief package. We remain hopeful for a federal solution even as liability protections have emerged as a hotly contested partisan issue.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, housing providers have faced duel operational challenges: maintain business continuity and provide safe and healthy communities for residents . Liability protections for businesses are a useful tool for addressing both priorities.