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What Does The Law Say About COVID-19 Liability?

The mandates, regulations, and restrictions set out by governments during the pandemic were meant to protect citizens from contracting COVID-19. Today, as provinces reopen further every month, both people and businesses alike recognize their responsibility in helping to keep each other safe and in lowering the risk of transmission of the virus. What does the law say about our responsibility to protect one another?

Lesly Joseph has specialized in personal injury and insurance litigation with Tierney Stauffer LLP for over 10 years. Though the firm is based in Ottawa, she regularly travels to Cornwall, Arnprior, and other surrounding areas to meet with clients. She now also works on COVID-19 liability for both businesses and individuals. As a lawyer of over a decade, the pandemic has brought forth interesting shifts in the realms of her practice, she affirms.

“In March 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic changed the ways in which people across the world think and live their lives.” Says Lesly. “With that change, people have redefined how they think about civil liability. In response to these concerns, the Ontario government passed the Supporting Ontario’s Recovery Act. The purpose of the Act is to offer protection to individuals, businesses and corporations from liability related to COVID-19.”

The Supporting Ontario’s Recovery Act, passed in November of 2020, says that people who take reasonable steps to protect themselves and others should not be found liable for transmitting COVID-19. “The Act is meant to protect individuals and businesses who have made a good faith effort to act in accordance with public health guidelines as well as complied with municipal, provincial and federal laws relating to COVID-19.

The Act does not protect those whose behaviour, acts or omission are found to constitute gross negligence. Gross negligence refers to behaviour that does not comply with the standards in place at the relevant time. In Ontario, liability as it relates to COVID-19 may be found in situations where an individual’s or corporation’s actions constitute a marked departure from the standards by which reasonable and competent people act.”

The Act protects both businesses and individuals alike who have taken the necessary precautions to limit the risk of COVID-19 transmission. So what should each do to ensure they remain protected? Policies will help both businesses and their clients/ employers to keep each other safe, advises Lesly. “Individuals and businesses should ensure that they are aware of, and in compliance with, the ever-changing rules and policies related to health and safety practices for COVID-19. Businesses can protect themselves by creating workplace policies and guidelines for staff members and their patrons that comply with the public health guidelines.”

Laws surrounding COVID-19 liability will continue to evolve, she foresees. “The law related to COVID-19 and liability is a new and evolving area. To date, there has been little jurisprudence in Ontario related to civil liability relating to COVID-19. As times change the law will likely evolve to encompass the new world in which we live.”

If you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 in an unsafe circumstance, you may have options, she says. “As an employee or customer, you should get as much information as possible about the circumstances that led to you contracting COVID-19 as soon as possible. Depending on the facts, you may wish to seek advice about whether you have any recourse in those circumstances.”

About Lesly Joseph

Lesly is a Partner at Tierney Stauffer LLP and practices in the areas of Personal Injury and Insurance Litigation focusing on claims in the areas of Motor Vehicle Accidents, Slip and Falls/Trip and Falls, Medical Malpractice, Disability Claims and Contract Litigation. Lesly works in the Ottawa office, but also travels to Arnprior, Cornwall and Kingston to meet with clients on personal injury matters.

About Tierney Stauffer LLP

For over 40 years, Tierney Stauffer LLP has worked with clients in the greater Ottawa area providing professional and affordable service. In the last 10 years, the firm has opened locations in Cornwall, Arnprior, Kingston, and North Bay.

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