Georgia's "COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act": What You Need to Know
On June 26, 2020, the Georgia legislature passed the “COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act,” which it enacted to protect health care providers and other Georgia businesses from “COVID-19 liability claims.” You can read the full text of the Act here.
Here is what you need to know about the Act:
Effective Date and End Date: The Act becomes effective either when signed into law by Governor Kemp or on August 7, 2020, whichever happens first. The Act’s protections expire on July 14, 2021, meaning that (unless extended) it will not apply to claims that accrue after that date.
What is a COVID-19 Liability Claim? A “COVID-19 liability claim” is, essentially, one that arises from a plaintiff’s alleged exposure to or infection with COVID-19. The Act applies to all such claims which arise from: medical treatment by a healthcare facility or healthcare provider; the manufacture, labeling, donation, or distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) or sanitizer; or (most significantly for Georgia business owners) exposure which occurs “[a]t any health care facility or on the premises of any entity, individual, or healthcare provider.”
This highlighted language bears emphasis. Because the Act defines the term “entity” sweepingly, its protections extend to virtually all Georgia businesses. Under the Act an entity is:
[A]ny association, institution, corporation, company, trust, limited liability company, partnership, religious or educational organization, political subdivision, county, municipality, other governmental office or governmental body, department, division, bureau, volunteer organization; including trustees, partners, limited partners, managers, officers, directors, employees, contractors, independent contractors, vendors, officials, and agents thereof, as well as any other organization other than a healthcare facility.
One would be hard-pressed to identify a Georgia business that does not qualify as an “entity” under this definition. Thus, the Act will protect virtually every Georgia business from claims allegations of COVID-19 exposure on the business’s premises.
What Protections Does the Act Provide from COVID-19 Liability Claims? The Act bars claimants from recovering damages from entities (as broadly defined), individuals, healthcare facilities and healthcare providers for COVID-19 liability claims, unless the claimant can prove “gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct; reckless infliction of harm, or intentional infliction of harm.” In other words, to recover damages, a COVID-19 claimant must prove more than mere negligence; the claimant must show that the covered entity engaged in reckless or intentional conduct, which creates a high bar to recovery.
Additionally, in actions alleging COVID-19 exposure on a defendant’s premises, the Act creates a “rebuttable presumption” that the claimant assumed the risk of infection. This rebuttable presumption applies as long as the defendant posts or provides certain notices, the contents of which the Act specifically enumerates.
For example, the Act holds that the rebuttable presumption will apply if a premises owner “has posted at a point of entry . . . a sign in at least one-inch Arial font placed apart from any other text, a written warning stating as follows”:
Under Georgia law, there is no liability for an injury or death of an individual entering these premises if such injury or death results from the inherent risks of contracting COVID-19. You are assuming the risk by entering these premises.
Similarly, the rebuttable presumption will apply to events and public gatherings as long as “[a]ny receipt or proof of purchase for entry, including but not limited to an electronic or paper ticket or wristband, issued to a claimant . . . for entry or attendance, includes a statement in at least ten-point Arial font placed apart from any other text, stating the following warning”:
Any person entering the premises waives all civil liability against this premises owner and operator for an 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.
In order to invoke the Act’s full protections, Georgia business owners should review the Act, familiarize themselves with its requirements, and comply with any applicable warning requirements.