As more businesses grapple with positive COVID-19 tests among their workforce, we have been receiving questions regarding the potential for liability relating to COVID-19 exposure. Fortunately, we can provide some clarity in this area as a growing number of states, including North Carolina, have adopted temporary legislation creating qualified civil immunity for certain coronavirus-related claims.
North Carolina’s law is a good example of the types of laws many states are adopting. The law provides limited immunity for “any claim for relief arising from any act or omission alleged to have resulted in the contraction of COVID-19.” However, the immunity does not apply to workers’ compensation claims or conduct that amounts “to gross negligence, willful or wanton conduct, or intentional conduct.” Essentially, the immunity is intended to protect businesses against negligence claims so long as they do not consciously disregard public health guidance.
Businesses should also note that the North Carolina law requires them to provide “reasonable notice of actions taken by the person for the purpose of reducing the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to individuals present on the premises.” However, the law clarifies that businesses will not be held liable if any individual fails to comply with posted guidelines. Finally, the law only applies from July 2 through 180 days after the rescission of the governor’s order declaring a state of emergency.