NJBIA's Public Policy Forum: The Road to Recovery REGISTER

Legislation has been introduced to grant businesses and other organizations general immunity from lawsuits claiming someone contracted COVID-19 at their facilities if proper steps were taken to prevent the spread of the virus.

With New Jersey in Stage 2 of its reopening plan, legal liabilities for schools, nonprofits, businesses and any other institutions is a major concern. Plaintiffs who contract COVID-19, could claim to have been exposed at a particular facility, and the owner would have little ability to refute the claim. NJBIA and the New Jersey Business Coalition have called on both the federal and state governments to enact such a liability protections.

“These bills will provide organizations with the protections they need to get back in business and start rebuilding a state economy that’s largely been shut down for three months,” NJBIA Chief Government Affairs Officer Chrissy Buteas said.

“The safety of employees and customers has to be the first priority, and businesses as a whole are taking their responsibilities seriously,” she said. “Unfortunately, our legal system allows businesses to get sued even if they do all of the right things, and that threat of legal action could prompt organizations to delay their reopening. If New Jersey is going to reopen successfully, immunity from coronavirus lawsuits has to be part of the plan.”

S-2634 (Gopal, D-11), S-2628 (Diegnan, D-18) and A-4377 (Freiman, D-16) are similar. The bills would all establish general immunity against actions relating to the coronavirus pandemic or related viral strain. The immunity would bar civil lawsuits, and in the case of businesses and institutions of higher education, any administrative proceedings. It would apply in cases where a person was required to be on a business’ property or the exposure occurred at some other place while conducting business, activities and operations, providing services, or doing volunteer work on behalf of a business or institution of higher education.

Immunity would only apply to businesses that act in good faith to comply with health and safety measures in effect at the time of an alleged exposure to prevent the spread of coronavirus. In short, businesses and other institutions would have to follow the guidance, regulations, rules, and administrative orders promulgated by applicable federal or state governments.

“NJBIA has been clear from the beginning: Only those businesses that follow the proper guidance and do the right things by their employees and their customers will be protected,” Buteas said. “Nothing in this legislation will protect bad actors, nor should it.”