Businesses now issue coronavirus waivers, not-so-foolproof insurance, to guard against possible COVID-19-related lawsuits.
While the Congress is still in debate whether to pass the liability immunity bill, some businesses have already started handing out coronavirus waivers as alternative protection against claims connected with the pandemic.
A hair salon based in West Harford, Connecticut, for instance, is asking patrons to sign a waiver before entering the establishment. If signed, customers automatically drop their rights to sue if circumstances that need legal action arise, especially if it is COVID-19 related.
Lena Whelan, a hairstylist from the said hair salon, told The Virginian Pilot that waivers give the salon “extra legal protection”—and that is despite all the safety measures they placed to keep customers and employees safe.
Scared business owners turn to liability waivers
Businesses’ fear of litigation had apparently caused coronavirus waivers to spread among small to medium-sized enterprises. Many owners today are anxious that they might “unfair and opportunistic” lawsuits even if they comply with the Center for Disease Control safety guidelines.
Chris Purcell, a restaurateur from North Carolina, is among the many operators who feel troubled in the absence of a liability immunity. “There is no way to prove or disprove that someone did or did not catch it in any particular location,” Purcell told CNBC.
Basically, these liability waivers offer businesses protection against coronavirus-related lawsuits, particularly those in the states without liability limits.
Baran: “it is a terrible choice for workers”
However, for that very reason, critiques argued that such waivers might be abused by businesses and avoid implementing safety measures like providing PPEs and plastic barriers.
Hugh Baran, a lawyer from a laborer advocacy group National Employment Law Project, reasoned that signing a coronavirus waiver is a “terrible choice for an employee.”
Timm Schlittner, Communications Director of AFL-CIO, also shares Baran’s views.
In an article published by The Hill, he said:
“It is not the job of employees to provide a safe workplace. That is the responsibility of employers and the federal government. This is a moment to enforce rights, not waive them.”
Federal legislation works better than coronavirus waivers
The use of waivers, however, is merely a blanket approach against potential COVID-19 cases.
John Witt, professor at Yale Law School, argued that signing a waiver is a poor substitute over federal legislation. He said a waiver is like a scalpel, while immunity legislation works like a sledgehammer. If legal actions are to take, the former will only apply to the person who signed it.
“The waivers only apply to people who sign them, not to family members who catch it from someone who signed it, for example,” Witt explained, as quoted by The Hill.
It is why, according to the president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform Harold Kim, the country needs a “national standard” to protect businesses from coronavirus lawsuits. Kim also told The Hill that waivers are not “foolproof protection” against COVID-19 claims.
Moreover, Witt also said that coronavirus waivers’ effectiveness is still vague, given that each state has different laws. He said some states might have varying enforcement standards from others.
“Leaving it to private parties to work out in waivers that are signed and not will produce a lot of variation and instability where the national standard would be certain,” he added.