On August 28, 2021, combined Missouri Senate Bills 42 and 51 went into effect. The new law provides certain liability protections for businesses against potential liability from COVID-19 infections. The law provides that no business “shall be liable in any COVID-19 exposure action unless the plaintiff can prove by clear and convincing evidence” that the business (1) “engaged in recklessness or willful misconduct that caused an actual exposure to COVID-19”, and (2) “The actual exposure to COVID-19 caused the personal injury of the plaintiff.” In addition, the law creates a rebuttable presumption that an individual assumes the risk of being exposed to COVID-19 if a business posts a written notice “in a clearly visible location at the entrance of the business, service, activity, or accommodation, in substantially the following form:
“WARNING: Under Missouri law, any individual entering the premises or engaging the services of the business waives all civil liability against the individual or entity for any damages based on inherent risks associated with an exposure or potential exposure to COVID-19, except for recklessness or willful misconduct.”
The new law also explicitly states that the adoption of policies designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 shall not be considered to be evidence of liability for COVID-19 infections. Notwithstanding the foregoing, no business is required to establish written COVID-19 policies in order to achieve the liability protections provided in the law.
It is worth noting that the law exempts religious organizations from posting the warning sign referenced above. In fact, the law provides that “No religious organization shall be liable in any COVID-19 exposure action unless the plaintiff can prove intentional misconduct.” This is a difficult burden to prove and, therefore, provides substantial liability protection for religious organizations.
Because liability for COVID-19 infections is a new and uncertain area of the law, it is important to consult an attorney to determine what actions a business should take to provide itself with the most protection from potential liability.