As workplaces and businesses in New Jersey slowly reopen, business owners are understandably concerned about what might happen if someone contracts COVID-19 on their premises. While businesses are working hard to keep their facilities clean and safe, it is likely impossible to completely eliminate the risk.
To address such concerns, the New Jersey Legislature is currently considering several bills that would provide liability protection to businesses amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The bills, Senate Bill 2634, Senate Bill 2628, and Assembly Bill 4377, all establish general immunity for certain entities against legal actions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Jersey COVID-19 Immunity Legislation
The proposed bills would establish general immunity for business entities, including non-profits, and institutions of higher education, and their officers, employees, agents, and volunteers, as well as public entities, including primary and secondary schools, and their employees, against actions relating to a person’s exposure to the virus SARS-CoV-2 or the disease caused by the virus, COVID-19. The immunity protection afforded under the legislation would also cover a disease caused by a related viral strain in subsequent years.
The immunity would be based on “good faith reasonable compliance” with or exceeding applicable health and safety measures, which are in effect at the time of an alleged exposure, and which measures are based on guidance, regulations, rules, and administrative orders promulgated by applicable federal or State departments, divisions, commissions, boards, bureaus, or agencies, as well as applicable Executive Orders or portions of those orders issued by the Governor. The immunity would bar civil lawsuits, and in the case of businesses and institutions of higher education, any administrative proceedings concerning professional disciplinary action, or suspension, revocation, refusal to issue or refusal to renew any license, certification, certificate, or permit, as applicable.
In addition, the immunity provided by the legislation would apply in addition to any other available immunity. It would also apply whether the exposure occurred because a person was required to be on a business’ property, the campus or other property of an institution of higher education, or public property, or entered or remained on the property or campus by express or implied invitation or permission, or the exposure occurred at some other place in the course of conducting business, activities and operations, providing services, or doing volunteer work on behalf of a business, institution of higher education, or public entity as authorized by it. Despite the broad liability protection, it would not grant immunity for an entity’s or person’s willful, wanton, or grossly negligent act of commission or omission. Finally, the bills would not affect a worker’s compensation claim or award pursuant to any applicable State or federal law.
If signed into law, the New Jersey COVID-19 immunity legislation would take effect immediately, and apply retroactively to March 9, 2020, the date the Public Health Emergency and State of Emergency was declared under Gov. Phil Murphy’s Executive Order 103.
If you have questions, please contact us
If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me,, or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-896-4100.