By Suzanne Barlyn and John McCrank
(Reuters) – As U.S. businesses reopen after weeks of pandemic lockdowns, many have been posting coronavirus disclaimers or requiring employees and patrons to sign waivers before entering.
From hair salons and recreation centers to stock exchanges and wedding photographers, the notices have sprung up across the country, asking guests to acknowledge they might contract a disease that has so far killed over 100,000 Americans.
Companies are using signs, forms and website postings as a shield against lawsuits, but the measures do not prevent people from seeking damages due to negligence, the same way someone might sue after falling on a slippery floor or getting sick from walls covered in lead paint, experts said.
Lawyers said it would be tough to prove a business caused a customer’s illness, but concerns are so intense that a waiver may soon become the new normal.
Entities including the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City, a real estate agency in Arizona, a racecar speedway in Seinsgrove, Pennsylvania, and the New York Stock Exchange have introduced waivers disavowing responsibility for anyone who might contract the disease onsite, Reuters has learned.
Missoula, Montana-based lawyer Paige Marie Griffith created a waiver for COVID-19, the respiratory illness related to the novel coronavirus, that business owners can buy and customize online. Events industry workers, including makeup artists and wedding photographers, are using them, she said.
“As essential as we feel, everyone getting their hair done is choosing to do so,” said Cody Brooke, who owns 10th Avenue Hair Designs in Pensacola, Florida. “We don’t want the salon or stylist to be held liable knowing that they chose to come in.”
Since reopening on May 11, the salon requires clients to sign a form stating they have no COVID-19 symptoms and have not visited a “hot spot” with high infection rates in the last 30 days. It releases the salon from liability for “unintentional exposure” to the virus.
Ryan Reiffert did not mind signing a waiver recently for the gym where he practices martial arts near San Antonio, Texas. He had symptoms in March and later learned from antibody testing that had likely contracted the virus.
“But even if I hadn’t had it,” he said, “I’d happily sign the waiver.”
A gym attendant sprayed disinfectant on Reiffer’s hands and feet before he could enter, he said.
Bigger companies are taking similar steps.
Walt Disney Co’s website cites “severe illness and death” risks for customers at its Orlando, Florida, amusement parks due to reopen on July 11th.
That warning did not deter the throngs who waited for hours to buy Mickey Mouse swag or apparel from familiar brands outside the Disney Springs shopping center that reopened on May 20.
A Disney spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
New York Stock Exchange owner Intercontinental Exchange Inc and commodities exchange CME Group Inc also require entrants to sign waivers. Floor traders at the exchanges have historically shouted in close proximity to one another, sans masks, but that has changed.
“I cannot stress enough that we will not be able to guarantee the safety of traders, clerks or other trading personnel that choose to access the trading floor,” said CME Chief Executive Terry Duffy. “It will have risk and will continue to have risk until there is a vaccine or some other cure for this disease.”
(Reporting by Suzanne Barlyn and John McCrank; Editing by Lauren Tara LaCapra and Richard Chang)