June 17, 2020 |
Updated January 8, 2021
As state and local governments gradually allow businesses to reopen, rental housing providers, like many other types of businesses, remain concerned about their liability exposure. Even when diligently following applicable guidelines, owners and operators face the prospect of frivolous lawsuits. Given that legal defense costs could cause great financial strain and contribute to apartment communities’ insolvency, it is critical that lawmakers pass legislation to ease this burden and continue to encourage businesses to reopen responsibly.
Recently, North Carolina, Utah, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Arkansas and Louisiana established laws that grant immunity to businesses against COVID-19 claims. Below are examples of language favorable to the industry.
- North Carolina took the approach of granting immunity to any businesses deemed essential under the governor’s executive order. These business types cannot be held liable by employees or customers for injuries or death alleged to be caused by contracting COVID-19 while engaging with the business. The law contains an exemption from immunity for businesses that act with gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or intentional infliction of harm. Deemed essential by executive order, “residential facilities” benefit from the protections under the new law.
- Utah provides businesses with immunity “from civil liability for damages or an injury resulting from exposure of an individual to COVID-19 on the premises owned or operated by the person, or during an activity managed by the person.” Similar to North Carolina’s statute, the law excluded those who acted negligently.
- Oklahoma grants broad immunity to businesses from civil liability so long as they operated within the guidelines of federal or state regulation, executive order, or any other active guidance provided at the time.
- Wyoming protects from civil liability any business or individual who, in good faith, followed the guidance of state, county, or town health officers when responding to the public health emergency.
- Arkansas establishes immunity, through executive order, for all businesses that open or remain open during the COVID-19 period. The temporary action will remain in effect until the termination of Arkansas' state of emergency.
- Louisiana broadly safeguards businesses and local governments from COVID-19 related civili liability claims, unless contraction is proven to be caused from gross negligence.
While the National Apartment Association (NAA) is encouraged by the work of state lawmakers to support the revitalization of America’s economy and promote certainty, more can and should be done to protect businesses. On May 27, NAA joined more than 200 groups representing businesses across the country in sending a letter to Congress urging the passage of broad liability protections at the federal level.
NAA continues its federal advocacy efforts on liability protections for businesses and its work with the affiliate network to promote industry-friendly legislation to ensure that the unique needs of the multifamily industry are met. For more information on COVID-19 related advocacy issues, please visit our COVID-19 Policy Concerns page. For multifamily operation and compliance assistance, please visit our COVID-19 Federal Resource Guide.