In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Louisiana legislature enacted and modified several statutes to limit the liability of individuals, businesses, and government agencies for exposure claims. However, the immunity is not absolute. While the immunity applies to “ordinary” negligence claims, it does not apply where acts are grossly negligent, wanton, or involve reckless misconduct. Further, as a condition to the protection afforded, the entity must show substantial compliance with the applicable COVID-19 procedures established by government authorities.
La. R.S. 9:2800.25, entitled “Limitation of liability for COVID-19” (the general immunity statute) provides that no person, business, or government entity shall be liable for injury or death resulting from exposure to COVID-19 through the performance of its business operations unless the entity failed to substantially comply with at least one set of procedures established by the federal, state, or local agency that governs the business operations, or the injury was caused by gross negligence or wanton, reckless misconduct. With respect to employer immunity, the statute provides that, regardless of whether an employee’s COVID-19 illness is covered under workers’ compensation law, the employee shall have no tort-based remedy against his employer unless the exposure was caused by an intentional act.
The exception to immunity in the general immunity statute calls into question the type of conduct that would rise to a level of gross negligence. Gross negligence is defined in Louisiana case law as “willful, wanton, reckless conduct that falls between intent to do wrong and ordinary negligence,” “lack of even slight care and diligence,” and “utter, complete or extreme lack of care.” While the definition does not provide a bright line rule, it reflects that the conduct must move well beyond simple negligence to defeat immunity.
For a business seeking to manage the risks arising from COVID-19, some best practices emerge: (1) monitor the COVID-19 procedures of government authorities to keep informed of the latest recommended or mandated procedures, (2) institute compliance protocols, (3) document and administer those procedures to show compliance, and (4) most obviously, avoid actions or omissions that may be construed as grossly negligent, wanton, or reckless.
Mary Anne Wolf is an engineer/attorney with a construction background who represents design professionals, contractors and others in construction litigation. She also gives seminars on the subject. She enjoys travel, yoga and encouraging her husband in his gardening and cooking endeavors.