Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.
Georgia recently became the ninth state1 to shield businesses from liability stemming from COVID-19. Governor Brian Kemp signed the new law, the Georgia COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act, on August 5, 2020, and the new law took effect immediately. The Act amends the Georgia tort claims law to provide new definitions, exceptions and a presumption against liability. There is a general shield against liability so long as the businesses did not act with gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, or reckless or intentional disregard in relation to someone being exposed and/or contracting COVID-19. Although the law appears focused on healthcare, it applies to any “healthcare facility, healthcare provider, entity, or individual.” The term “Entity” is defined extremely broadly to encompass most any business.2
In addition to the general shield against liability, businesses that provide a written warning are further protected by a rebuttable presumption that the person trying to sue assumed the risk of being exposed or contracting COVID-19 by entering the facility or engaging with the business. To be eligible to assert the presumption, businesses must post the warnings at a point of entry to the premises, and for special events, can print the warning on tickets or wristbands. Posted warnings must be in Arial font of at least one inch, which is 72 points or greater, be placed apart from all other text, and state:
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 this risk by entering these premises.
Warnings printed on tickets or wristbands must be at least ten-point Arial font and appear apart from all other text, and state:
Any person entering the premises waives all civil liability against this premises owner and operator for any 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.
The new law only provides a defense to lawsuits, meaning plaintiffs can still file suits, and businesses will incur defense costs to defend against the lawsuit. Business also are potentially liable for damages if the plaintiff is able to prove the exceptions (gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, etc.) to the shield the statute provides. In addition, the law only protects Georgia businesses and their owners for potential or actual exposures to COVID-19 that occur through July 14, 2021. Georgia joined 21 other attorneys general urging Congress for a similar national law.
Although not covered by this or any specific statute, businesses that interact with the public away from the business’ own premises may be able to limit their liability by obtaining liability waivers that can include assumption of the risk and indemnification provisions. If waivers are not possible, liability might be limited by at least providing similar notices to others with whom the business and its employees interact. Employment counsel can advise on the options available and effectiveness of each.
1 Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming have enacted similar legislation.
2 The Act defines Entity as “any 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.”