Risks Customers May Face with Businesses Reopening in Rhode Island
In late April, Governor Raimondo and the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health announced their plans for the “safe” reopening of Rhode Island, which includes lifting the stay at home order and allowing businesses to reopen “under strict public health guidelines.” What this ultimately means is that, because COVID-19 exposure is still a risk and reality, businesses will face potential liability when inviting customers, vendors, and others onto their premises. While many have been pushing for immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits, the reality is that many will simply accept the liability risk and move forward with opening, regardless, in order to get business moving again.
And while many arguably faced a number of premises liability claims when the virus first appeared and before the governor closed many facilities that were not considered to be “essential,” now that more is known regarding how deadly the virus is, more will be both expected and required of property owners in terms of ensuring that if they choose to operate – as well as provide any assurances that their property is safe for visitors – they have taken reasonable steps to actually keep customers safe while on their property.
General Negligence & Premises Liability in Rhode Island
In Rhode Island, premises liability is linked to general negligence principles, which dictate that landowners must exercise reasonable care for the safety of those who are expected to be on the premises, including protecting them against dangerous conditions, providing that the landowner either knows of their existence or would have known, had they exercised reasonable care. Put in the context of COVID-19, action could be taken against a property owner when a reasonably prudent owner would have foreseen that the virus was present on the premises (for example, if an employee reported that they tested positive) and the owner failed to take reasonable steps to protect customers from exposure.
Interestingly, a number of businesses are already advertising that they are taking very specific steps to keep customers safe while they are on the premises; presumably in order to convince them that shopping is safe once again. Making these claims can be tricky, as many arguably imply a kind of ‘guarantee’ that there is no risk. Ultimately, they can end up exposing business owners to additional claims for false advertising and/or misrepresentation as well.
Contact A Providence Premises Liability Attorney If You Have Any Questions
If you have concerns about premises liability here in Rhode Island, you and your attorney will likely discuss the following in addressing any liability risks that a business owner may have exposed you to:
- Whether they are following local, state, federal, etc. guidance on reopening and conducting business at that time. It is highly likely that government entities will set forth requirements when it comes to social distancing, tracking infected employees, a list of possible actions that could bring about citations, etc.
- Any questionable interactions you had with employees, what information those employees provided you with concerning what the business was doing to protect customers from the risk of COVID-19
- To what extent the business owner followed through with what they advertised (for example, only allowing in a certain number of customers in at a time, ensuring that the minimum distance was kept between them, etc.)
If you or a loved one have any related concerns, know that our office is committed to providing you with answers. Contact a Providence personal injury attorney at the Kiselica Law Firm today to find out more.