The Georgia COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act (the “Act”) went into effect upon the Governor’s signature on Wednesday, August 5, 2020. The full language of the Act is available here. This law limits a business’s liability for claims based on the transmission of COVID-19 at its premises unless a plaintiff can meet the high bar of establishing gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, reckless infliction of harm, or intentional infliction of harm on the part of a business. This protection is automatic for Georgia businesses, including healthcare facilities and healthcare providers (which are separately listed in the Act).
The Act provides for an additional layer of protection by adding a rebuttable presumption that any person entering a business’s premises has “assumed the risk” associated with COVID-19 transmission. A business creates this presumption by posting signs in at least 1-inch Arial font at its entrances with the following language:
Under Georgia law, there is no liability for an injury or death of an individual entering these premises if such injury or death results from the inherent risks of contracting COVID-19. You are assuming this risk by entering these premises.
The signs must be “apart from any other text,” meaning this is the only message conveyed on the signs. The Act does not expressly state that it is necessary to post signs at all entrances, but the most cautious approach would be to do so. It is also a good idea to take pictures of the posted warnings to document that the business complied with this requirement.
Businesses can also invoke the rebuttable presumption by including on “any receipt or proof of purchase for entry” to a premises the following language, in at least ten-point Arial font, placed apart from any other text:
Any person entering the premises waives all civil liability against this premises owner and operator for any injuries caused by the inherent risk associated with contracting COVID-19 at public gatherings, except for gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, reckless infliction of harm, or intentional infliction of harm, by the individual or entity of the premises.
Businesses that issue tickets or wristbands for entry can include this language on those entry items to meet the requirements of the law.
Notably, on its face, the Act indicates that its protections would apply to claims by employees because the protections apply to any person that would bring a claim based on transmission of or exposure to COVID-19. That said, the Act makes clear that it does not impact Georgia’s workers’ compensation laws. Therefore, the Act will not affect the ability of an employee to bring a traditional worker’s compensation claim relating to the transmission of or exposure to COVID-19. The issues associated with such a claim are beyond the scope of this article, but AGG’s Employment Team can provide further guidance. Further, there may be nuanced situations in the employment context that warrant further discussion with counsel before relying on the Act’s protections as a matter of policy.
The Act includes a sunset provision so that the protections only apply to claims “accruing until July 14, 2021.” Because this sunset provision sets the deadline based on the accrual of claims, the protections will apply to claims asserted after July 14, 2021, so long as the alleged transmission or exposure happened before then.
For additional insights into the history of the Act, including AGG’s involvement in negotiating the language of the Act, please click here. For more information about the Act or this article, please contact Jason S. Bring.