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Is Social Distancing a Defense Against a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

Is Social Distancing a Legitimate Personal Injury Defense?

With over 6 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States right now, it's no surprise that the disease has been involved in all sorts of lawsuits. If you are filing a case, you may find the defense using COVID social distancing as an excuse against your claims. Showing that social distancing is not a defense can be tricky, so be sure to talk to an attorney about your case.

Can People Use Social Distancing as a Defense in COVID Personal Injury Claims?

As the pandemic continues to progress, Allentown personal injury attorneys are seeing more cases that involve one party suing another because they have contracted COVID. Whether or not social distancing can be a defense will depend on the situation. When dealing with this defense, it's important to consider whether the defendant is an individual or an organization. In claims involving one individual against another, things may be fairly cut and dry. When suing for coronavirus infection, you would need to show that the defendant was acting irresponsibly or maliciously. This could include things like spitting purposefully on a person or coughing directly in someone's face. In these sorts of cases, proving that the defendant was following social distancing guidelines can be a defense against the claim. Even if the defendant was not wearing a mask, showing that they were social distancing does reveal that they were most likely trying not to spread COVID-19. This could make it a helpful part of any defense. In general, these cases are tricky to prove because you will have to show the defendant was the only person with COVID-19 that you encountered. Therefore, social distancing can be enough to show reasonable doubt that the plaintiff was the one spreading coronavirus. When it comes to holding businesses liable for an unsafe environment, social distancing alone may not be enough of a defense. Businesses have a duty to provide their customers with a reasonably safe environment even when other patrons may be acting unsafely. This includes following all government regulations for reducing COVID. In most regions, this will include requiring customers to wear masks, reducing capacity inside the building, sanitizing frequently touched surfaces, and altering seating, layouts, and waiting areas to improve social distancing. Therefore, a business that just has a sign at the front saying "please remain socially distant" is not absolved of all responsibility for your safety. Organizations can point out social distancing policies as part of how they keep customers safe, but social distancing alone is usually not enough of a defense. A business needs to be actively taking steps to keep customers safe instead of just hoping all individuals practice social distancing on their own.

Is Social Distancing an Excuse in Other Types of Personal Injury Claims?

When you move beyond looking at claims specifically about COVID-19, things get even more intricate. There is just such a huge amount of variety in personal injury claims that no lawyer can definitively say if social distancing is a valid defense. In some cases, bringing up COVID might be irrelevant. However, there are some circumstances where you and your Allentown personal injury attorney might encounter a defendant using social distancing as an excuse. Lawsuits involving a defendant who did not provide adequate help end up involving COVID-19. In any personal injury claim, it is necessary to prove that the defendant had a duty to act in a certain way but negligently failed to fulfill their duty. For example, if a dog attacked you and the owner did not step in to help remove the dog, they might be held liable. A defense to these sorts of claims is that the defendant would have endangered themselves by getting involved. Being concerned for their own health and trying to avoid getting close enough to catch COVID may be a defense to these types of claims. Even if someone had a duty to care for you, COVID-19 social distancing may be a reason to step back during any injury. Another type of case where COVID-19 might be a defense is in personal injury cases involving a breach of contract. If you are trying to sue someone for damages because they could not fulfill a contract, there are some cases where social distancing may be a valid defense. Most contracts have a force majeure clause that frees the subject from liability if extraordinary circumstances keep them from fulfilling their obligation. For example, if they could not host an event or provide a service due to social distancing regulations, they might not be held liable. Whether or not a social distancing defense works in such a case will usually depend on what the contract says. Even if the contract did not contain a force majeure clause, the defendant might not be liable if government social distancing regulations directly prevented someone from fulfilling their obligation. COVID social distancing is mostly useful in claims that involve spreading COVID infections, failing to assist others, or breaching contracts. However, every lawsuit is unique. Social distancing lawsuit defenses might be used to show a defendant did not get close enough to assault someone, damage property, or engage in other problematic behavior. There are always unusual cases that require innovative thinking to argue against the defense's claims.

How to Argue Against a Social Distancing Defense

If social distancing guidelines are brought up in your case, your lawyer needs to be prepared to argue against that defense. You and your attorney may be able to show that social distancing was not actually used or was irrelevant to the case. Remember that in any good legal case, you should have more proof than just your own testimony. The sooner you and your legal team start collecting evidence, the more proof you will have to shoot down the defendant's social distancing defense. Ideally, you will benefit from concrete proof that social distancing was not actually in effect. There are many ways to go about showing this. If the incident occurred in a place of business, security camera footage can show the defendant was not social distancing. Many businesses only hold onto security footage for a certain amount of time, so your personal injury lawyer should contact them as soon as possible and request the footage. In some businesses, seats, partitions, or waiting lines may be set up in a way that forces everyone to cluster closely together. Be sure to take photos of the relevant areas as soon as possible, so you can show an accurate picture of what the layout looked like. Try to collect the names and numbers of witnesses to the incident so they can also testify about whether any social distancing was in effect. Ultimately, there are several ways that social distancing may factor into a personal injury lawsuit. Since claims involving COVID can be so complex, it is a good idea to seek help from an Allentown personal injury attorney who has plenty of experience. Metzger & Kleiner is already encountering situations where COVID-19 may influence the outcome of a case. We can work with clients to help refine their legal arguments and assist their cases in court. To schedule a free consultation, contact our Lehigh Valley office at 610-435-7400 or our Philadelphia office at 215-567-6616.

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