In a perfect world, as 2020 comes to a welcomed end by so many, all the vestiges of COVID-19 would also leave with this largely forgettable year. Not to be.
Though there is some good news with vaccinations already in use and perhaps optimism that this pandemic can be controlled; the damage that was caused in 2020 by government shutdowns, capacity limits in businesses, consumer uncertainty, and health risks has led to a large uptick in the court system dealing with business disruption claims due to this historic pandemic. Below, is some of the latest.
Sport’s bar business interruption lawsuit dismissed
Right here in Florida, a Federal Judge dismissed a sports bar’s lawsuit seeking coverage for lost business due to state-ordered restrictions amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. As we have seen in other similar decisions, the court found that the bar did not experience a “direct physical loss.”
U.S. District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell stated that Prime Time Sports Grill in Tampa, FL, is not entitled to business interruption coverage under its commercial insurance policy because the disruption in business was not due to a “direct physical loss or damage” to its property. The economic loss did not derive from “tangible damage.”
The underwriters at Lloyds of London argued that Prime Time did not allege in its complaint, filed in April 2020, that the coronavirus was discovered inside its bar or nearby premises. The Judge cited a recent 11th Circuit opinion affirming that Sparta Insurance Co. does not have to cover a Miami restaurant’s loss of income and extra cleaning costs due to nearby roadwork, that the claimed losses did not result from covered “direct physical loss of or damage” to its property. Judge Honeywell noted that Prime Time has not presented any binding authority to the contrary and that the suspension was “not caused by tangible damage” but rather a “statewide closure of bars and restaurants” due to the pandemic.
Florida’s potential “liability shield”
More than sixty Florida business groups have urged state lawmakers to pass a liability shield for various businesses, schools, and health care providers from COVID-19 injury lawsuits. The argument is that businesses are struggling to reopen and stay open and should be protected from “frivolous lawsuits” related to coronavirus infections. The coalition is asking that any litigation against health care providers should be limited to cases involving “gross negligence” and “reckless misconduct”, which is a much more difficult standard than simple negligence to achieve. Additionally, sought is a shortened statute of limitations and total immunity for essential businesses.
Other states have passed similar legislation, including Ohio, in which Mike DeWine, a Republican Governor signed into law H.B. 606, mandating that individuals, businesses, schools, and health care providers can’t be held liable for injuries or deaths related to COVID-19 exposure unless a defendant committed reckless, intentional, or willful or wanton misconduct. The Pennsylvania legislature passed similar litigation but it was vetoed by Democrat Governor Tom Wolf.