Office Occupancy Faces Uncertain Summer
Insurance Partner Thomas Bentz and Real Estate Attorney Herman Lipkis were quoted in a Commercial Property Executive article about the office sector's efforts to return in the wake of COVID-19. The responsibility to safely bring employees back to their workplaces has potential legal implications. Wrongful death lawsuits related to coronavirus have already been brought against Walmart and meatpacking plants, and the office sector is likely to face the same scrutiny as it opens up for business.
A worker who was infected, and believes that the place of employment is to blame for failing to follow CDC guidelines, is likely to bring legal action, says Mr. Bentz. "Such lawsuits will be difficult to prove in court, since it is impossible to know whether the virus was contracted in a common area—the landlord’s domain—or at a desk, which is the tenant’s domain." Mr. Bentz cautions operators to be aware of COVID-19 exclusions inserted by carriers into property policies and general liability policies. Another tip: Make certain that new terms and conditions don’t limit the potential for coverage in the future.
On the transaction side, provisions like force majeure and impracticability and impossibility will now become major issues as tenants come to owners for lease deferrals or modifications, or if owners are considering a new tenant, predicts Mr. Lipkis. “Owners need to be careful how they write these provisions,” Mr. Lipkis warns, “because it could mean that tenant would be able to cancel and get out pretty quickly and easily, depending on how it’s written.”