We have seen numerous reports that homeowners are active on home improvement and remodeling projects during the Covid-19 pandemic. North Texas seems to be one of the especially active regions for remodel work. This is of course great news for both remodelers and homeowners. However, given the ongoing concerns about Covid-19 and the fact that many home remodels projects happen when homeowners are in their home, there should be at least some concern about liability exposure by both the homeowner and the remodeler.
For example, what if a remodeler performs work at a home where an occupant is infected with Covid-19 or was recently exposed to someone with Covid-19, and does not know it? Alternatively, if an employee or subcontractor of the remodeler has been diagnosed with Covid-19 or was exposed to someone with Covid-19 and feels no symptoms? As we all have read or heard, many people who are infected may show no signs or experience no symptoms, so we are talking about potentially unknown exposure or infection. Will there be lawsuits? Only time will tell, but in our decades of experience, we have seen less likely scenarios turn into costly litigation that can drag on for years.
Couple this unknown level exposure with how does a business or homeowner protect not only themselves, but also their employees, families, and friends from unknown exposure. We do not expect most if any insurance policies will provide coverage. So, is there anything you can do to protect yourself/business from something you cannot see or predict, but carries the potential for illness, hospitalization, or even death, for which you could be sued?
First, if you are a remodeler, you should prepare written protocols for your employees and subcontractors that includes an active procedure for taking temperatures and written, signed agreements with your employees that if they experience any Covid-19 symptoms they will inform you and, if necessary, not come into work until their symptoms have passed. Of course, all employees and subcontractors should wear masks when they enter a home, in compliance with the statewide mandate.
Second, prepare a written, mutual waiver and release that homeowners will sign at the time they sign your contract. It should include a statement indicating that no one who resides in the home or who will be in the home to perform work is known to be infected with Covid-19 or has any symptoms, or recently exposed to someone who has been exposed to Covid-19.
The foregoing recommendations do not guarantee that you will not be exposed, contract, transmit or be protected from becoming infected with Covid-19. Rather, these are good business practices under the current circumstances. My office has prepared several of these types of separate mutual release documents over the past several months. We have also added provisions in contracts to address delays that could result from Covid-19, whether it be the inability to proceed with work because of a shortage of supplies, materials, and labor, or if another round of shelter-in-place orders changes the prior designation regarding residential construction as an “essential business.”
Please feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss how we can help draft the recommended documents discussed above.