Ontario’s premier Doug Ford confirmed on Tuesday that the provincial government is considering granting some degree of immunity from civil law suits related to the COVID-19 virus. Such immunity would protect individuals and organizations, including long-term care facilities, from lawsuits related to the spread of COVID-19, as long as those individuals or organizations have acted in good faith and in accordance with government directives and standards.
The proposed immunity provisions would protect companies and staff who unknowingly pass the virus on to customers or other staff, in order to better facilitate the gradual re-opening of Ontario businesses that may be hesitant in the face of potential liability. The provisions would also address the increased risk faced by long-term care homes, where concerns have arisen that without such civil liability protection, insurance may be unattainable or unaffordable, making long-term care less available and more expensive.
The provisions would not, however, absolve parties of all responsibility or liability. Corporations are required to adhere to provincial health and safety guidelines and requirements as they re-open in order to protect the safety of customers and employees. Failing to act in good faith, or acting recklessly or irresponsibly, will leave parties open to claims for negligence or abuse.
While still under consideration in Ontario, a similar cabinet order has been passed in BC absolving any person or corporation “providing an essential service” from liability for damages resulting from COVID-19 infections. This order applies to a range of workers, from grocery store employees to long-term care facility health workers. Immunity does not apply to parties that have failed to follow public health guidance or have committed gross negligence in their actions.
It is not yet clear how such provisions, if enacted, would impact civil lawsuits which have already been filed. If you have any questions or concerns about your potential liability, or how this may affect a claim you wish you bring, please contact Barriston today.
Josh Valler and Jacklyn Tuckey