Businesses ask patrons to waive right to sue if they get ill

FILE - In this May 1, 2020, file photo, people ride down an escalator at a shopping mall in Oklahoma City as it reopens from its closure since mid-March due to coronavirus concerns. Many businesses are requiring customers and workers to sign forms saying they won't sue if they catch COVID-19. Businesses are afraid they could face lawsuits even if they follow social distancing and other government guidelines as they reopen across the U.S. after coronavirus shutdowns. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – As businesses reopen across the U.S. after coronavirus shutdowns, many are requiring customers and workers to sign forms saying they won’t sue if they catch COVID-19.

Businesses fear they could be the target of litigation even if they adhere to safety precautions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health officials. But workers’ rights groups say the forms force employees to sign away their rights should they get sick.

The liability waivers, similar to what President Donald Trump’s campaign is requiring for people to attend a Saturday rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, would protect businesses in states that don’t have liability limits or immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

So far, at least six states — Utah, North Carolina, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Alabama — have such limits through legislation or executive orders, and others are considering them. Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are lobbying for national liability protections.

The novel coronavirus has sickened more than 2 million people in the U.S. and killed more than 115,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.

At Salon Medusa in West Hartford, Connecticut, hair stylist Lena Whelan says they’re using only two of six styling stations since reopening June 1. Customers have to wait outside, they have to wear masks, and all stations and tools are disinfected between clients.

Despite all those safety measures, customers must sign a form saying they won’t sue if they get infected with the novel coronavirus. The form, which also asks patrons if they or any family members have virus symptoms, gives the salon extra legal protection, Whelan said.

Critics argue that liability waivers open the door for corporations to skirt protocols like erecting Plexiglas barriers, providing face masks and other protective equipment, and keeping people the proper distance apart without suffering any repercussions.