TOWARD A SAFE HARBOR
BOMA is a leading voice in congressional conversations, arguing that facility liability protections are needed to provide some legal certainty as property professionals continue to do their part to support reopening businesses around the country. A tailored, specific and limited legal safe harbor is essential for those commercial real estate businesses that are following public health rules, directives and guidelines; developing plans; and implementing protective measures.
Certainly, if a business is willfully violating these laws or guidelines, then they should not be able to avail themselves of liability protections. But, for those who are acting in good faith, protections are prudent and will provide certainty and reassurance at a time when it is needed most. BOMA is hopeful that some form of liability protections will be included in the next round of COVID-19 recovery efforts.
The good news is that, absent federal actions, several states already have enacted legislation to deliver these types of liability protections. Utah provides all persons and premises with blanket protection through its Senate Bill 3007, giving immunity to all from liability for injury resulting from exposure to COVID-19, unless there has been willful misconduct or reckless or intentional infliction of harm. Oklahoma passed a similar bill, Senate Bill 1946, which grants everyone immunity from liability for any claim by a person who was exposed to COVID-19, as long as no laws were violated and the person or business accused followed official safety guidance.
This kind of broad liability protection is much less common than, for instance, that offered by the state of North Carolina. As part of North Carolina’s Senate Bill 704 COVID-19 relief package, immunity is provided only to a swath of "essential businesses," such as grocery stores and restaurants, from liability for any harm caused by the coronavirus. The liability protections also have an expiration date, something that is becoming commonplace in liability bills throughout the country.
For now, many states are hesitant about granting general businesses immunity from liability, choosing rather to allow immunity from civil or criminal liability during a declared emergency only to certain healthcare workers and occupations.
BOMA International’s advocacy team continues to press the need for these liability protections at all levels of government. Directly engaging congressional leadership and providing resources, letters and talking points to BOMA local associations are just a few of the ways BOMA International is working with members to keep this issue center stage.
Businesses and employers are relying on BOMA members to provide them safe, secure and healthy environments. Without important liability safeguards in place, it will be even harder to facilitate recovery efforts and to move the economy forward.
For more information on legislative actions, contact BOMA International Vice President of Advocacy & Building Codes Don Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org.