As coronavirus pandemic continues, we have been asked whether a person or entity could face potential liability if another person becomes infected by the virus. Liability for spreading an illness isn’t far-fetched. Florida law makes it a criminal offense to spread certain sexually transmitted diseases. When a person knows he or she is infected with an STD and knows he or she may spread the disease through sexual intercourse, it’s illegal to have intercourse unless the other person has been informed about the STD and has consented to the intercourse. A violation of this statute is punishable by up to one year in jail and can be the basis for a civil lawsuit seeking money damages.
However, coronavirus is different. It’s not an STD and there isn’t a statute criminalizing its transmission. Proving the transmission of the virus from one person to another, or that the infected person knew, or should have known, that virus transmission was likely to occur, may be quite difficult. Given the burden of proof, bringing a civil lawsuit for contracting coronavirus in most circumstances may be “ill-advised.” That said, the law governing coronavirus cases may be shifting, especially given recent bills passed in the Florida legislature and the U.S. Congress as to the rights of employees under Florida and Federal law. Just as the trajectory of coronavirus is very uncertain at this point, the same can be said of these legal issues, which may change over time.
The most important thing to do is to stay safe and to take steps to avoid contracting or spreading the coronavirus. Practice social distancing, wash your hands frequently, and clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Businesses should make reasonable accommodations for employees to work at safe distances, provide hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes, and provide remote operations when feasible and appropriate. Visit the government’s website for the latest Coronavirus updates and other useful information on how protect yourself. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/prevention.html
This blog is written by Partner Steve Clarfield.