Gatherings in the COVID 19 Era: How to Reduce Business Liability Risk

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business liability during cover 19 in BC

How will you prepare to start filling seats?

As the BC economy continues to reopen in phases commercial businesses that host on-site patrons are returning to operations. With social distancing mandates in place applicable businesses are now permitted to allow up to 50 persons on site at a given time.  Operators may include amusement parks, event centers (and planners), sports arenas, concert halls, and more. These enterprises are currently fine-tuning their reopening strategies. If you’re among them then you know that one of the most important considerations is liability risk management. Below is a practical look at how you can mitigate the new risk that comes from hosting attendees amidst COVID 19.

3 Practical Tips to Help Commercial Businesses in BC Reduce Liability Risk When Hosting Guests and Attendees Amidst COVID 19

Follow (or Exceed) All updated Government Mandates AND Recommendations

Together with the BC Center for Disease Control the provincial government has mandated which protocols must be in place for any operator who has the permitted number of people on site. Indoor and outdoor sporting events, conferences, meetings, concerts, theaters, festivals, amusement parks, or other similar affairs/spaces have been ordered to limit attendance to less than or equal to 50 people unless otherwise stipulated (i.e. drive-in events). View the most up to date Order of the Provincial Health Officer regarding mass commercial gatherings here. Reference it at least three times per week for updates as news regarding COVID 19 in BC absolutely changes by the day.

Of course, sticking to the 50-person limit on its own is not enough to significantly reduce your liability. You must show that you have taken every mandated precaution to protect on-site public. Don’t just abide by the mandated items, follow the recommended ones too. For example, having staff wear medically-approved masks may not be an enforceable requirement (which is why you see some establishments not doing it) but it is a BC Health Officer recommendation. Commercial operators are advised to review all details within Phase 2 (current) and Phase 3 (entering) of BC’s Restart Plan. Follow these recommendations, as well as the enforceable mandates to show that you have taken an abundance of caution. This can help reduce your liability risk.

Waivers of liability for Disease transmission

This risk-management tactic won’t fly with eatery and retail customers, but much of the public is accustomed to accepting liability for their own health and safety at a variety of events and gatherings. However, to date, these “waivers” were often written in small print on the backs of tickets or on signage at the point of entry. This strategy may not hold up in claims court in the COVID 19 era, not if the health of an on-site individual is compromised. Moving forward, have guests/visitors sign waivers of liability for disease transmission, which may help protect your business from a lawsuit. For better protection, waivers must be specific to your business. It must also ask that attendees assume all risks for exposure to COVID-19, while still conveying that you are taking every necessary precaution to protect them.

Remember that a liability waiver is only one part of risk management. You must exhibit that you have followed all of the BC government mandates and recommendations addressed in item #1 above. Even then, there is no guarantee that waivers will hold up in court:

“Waivers of liability for disease transmission might protect commercial clients from lawsuits, but the industry will not know for sure until one is tested in an appeal court, a litigation defence lawyer suggests [….] Even with a waiver, it is still ‘critical for commercial entities to act reasonably and appropriately in conjunction with the best medicine that we have, with best practices whether it be wearing a mask, whether it be social distancing, whether it be cleaning on a regular basis, said Olah.” ( John Olah, Beard Winter LLP, via Canadian Underwriter)

It’s still a good idea to introduce a liability waiver in your restart plan, just don’t lean on it as the ultimate solution.

Connect to a Broker to Stay On Top of Commercial Coverage Changes

Industry business models are changing in real time amidst COVID 19. This is nary more true than with the insurance industry, as carriers are forced to reexamine commercial policies, especially as they pertain to business interruption, cyber, and general liability. Brokers, who bridge the gap between policy holders and carriers, work hard to stay on top of new restrictions, exclusions, and other updates:

“Brokers are now being cautioned about the new wave of carriers’ coverage changes and adjustments arising from the phased re-opening of Canadian businesses and the economy.” (Canadian Underwriter)

Some policy adjustments are temporary, while others may remain into the foreseeable future. The only way for a commercial policy holder to keep informed and ensure that they have the best possible coverage is to consult with their broker. Don’t have one? The time to act is now. Contact Park Insurance right away for a comprehensive assessment of your current commercial insurance policy.

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