Covid-19: What About Civil Liability?

COVID-19 is affecting us all. The news worsens daily. As of the writing of this article, there are more than 7,000 confirmed cases in the United States and 3 in Santa Clarita. All medical experts indicate that we will need to deal with COV-19 for the next months, at the very least. Seniors have been told to stay inside their homes. All individuals have been told to stay at least six feet away others outside of their household. Businesses have been told to close or provide remote access to the workplace, if possible. While a “shelter in place” order has not been given here as in the Bay Area, what are the ramifications if these rules are not followed? Will individuals who do not follow the “suggestions” of the CDC that are broadcasted repeatedly be subject to criminal or civil liability?

In Italy, there has been a national quarantine since March 9th, restricting all from leaving their homes except for work, health related reasons, or grocery shopping. One man who was out shopping and tested positive has been charged with “aiding the epidemic.” If convicted, he could face up to 12 years in prison. More than 40,000 people have been criminally charged with violating the quarantine. Is this where we are headed?

What about civil liability? There are neighbors getting together throughout Santa Clarita, looking for ways to occupy their children due to school closures. If one of them tests positive, should they be civilly liable for negligence? Should homeowner’s insurance cover that breach of duty of care if it occurs within the home? We would be hard-pressed to argue that we didn’t know of the risk that COVID-19 presented; that we didn’t owe a duty of care to guests in our home, and we didn’t breach that duty by gathering in groups of individuals outside our family unit or sitting on a couch watching a movie, which conceivably put the group in closer proximately that the six feet distance requirement.

Time will tell. But until then, stay home, wash your hands, and realize that this is a matter of life or death.