Did you know that businesses are protected from being sued for COVID-19 transmission, in certain circumstances, in British Columbia?
In the summer of 2020, the British Columbia government enacted the COVID-19 Related Measures Act and the Covid-19 (Limits on Actions and Proceedings) Regulation to support B.C.'s restart plan for the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the effects of the legislation is to provide civil liability protection for businesses and non-profits for damages related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The purpose of this protection is to encourage British Columbia's businesses and non-profits to continue to operate and provide services without fear of being sued for exposing individuals to COVID-19.
Other provinces, including Ontario and Alberta, have enacted similar legislation that provides civil liability protection for damages relating to COVID-19; note that the scope of the protection in those provinces differs from the B.C. approach.
What damages does it protect against?
The legislation provides protection from civil proceedings for damages resulting, directly or indirectly, from an individual being (or likely being) infected with or exposed to COVID-19.
Note that a lawsuit can still be filed against a business in relation to a COVID-19 transmission event – however, the business would likely be able to rely on these legislative provisions as a full defence, and may be able to have the suit dismissed at an early stage, assuming the conditions in the legislation are met.
Additionally, this legislation is aimed at protecting against civil suits; it does not protect against, for example, an employee making a claim or complaint under workers compensation legislation against an employer in relation to COVID-19 transmission in the workplace.
Who is protected?
This protection is given to any person engaged in the following prescribed acts:
- operating or providing an essential service;
- an activity that has the purpose of benefitting the community (for example, the provision of community recreation or leisure activities, protecting the environment, etc.); or
- an activity that is carried on for profit (such as a business).
Owners and directors of the organization are also protected, as well as employees and volunteers acting on the organization's behalf.
Are there any conditions for protection?
Protection only applies if the entity or individual follows, or reasonably believes they are following, all applicable emergency and public health guidance. This includes any government policies, legislation, and guidelines related to COVID-19 and instructions from Dr. Bonnie Henry.
What conduct is not protected?
No protection is provided for conduct that constitutes gross negligence. Additionally, the legislation does not apply to the conduct of individuals in their personal lives. For example, civil liability protection would not extend to a person hosting a party in their private home.
When does the Legislation apply?
The legislation will provide civil liability protection until it is repealed. Currently, it is scheduled to be repealed on December 31, 2021. However, the British Columbia government announced on October 21, 2021 that it intends to extend this repeal date.
Any civil liability protection that was acquired under the legislation prior to its repeal will not be affected.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.