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Edward Lindsey of Dentons. (Courtesy photo) Edward Lindsey of Dentons. (Courtesy photo)

Over the past two months, Georgia and the rest of the nation have taken extreme but necessary steps to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. People have been ordered to shelter in place, businesses have been shuttered and unemployment has skyrocketed. When and where the economy will hit rock bottom is unknown. Nationwide, the U.S. economic output dropped 4.8% in the first quarter of this year, the steepest drop since 2008, and that drop does not include April. In Georgia, at the height of the Great Recession in 2009, there were 361,000 new unemployment claims in the first 15 weeks of that year. This year there were over 940,000 new claims in the same time period.

With an easing last week of Gov. Brian Kemp’s shelter-in-place order and new guidelines for how businesses should operate and maintain social distancing, business owners—including our grocers, barbers and hair stylists, auto mechanics, drug store owners, etc.—are cautiously considering whether and how to reopen for business. One thing they should not have to weigh in deciding whether and how to operate is potential civil negligent tort liability for the COVID-19 outbreak. As we have come to know, this disease is easily transmittable even by people who are asymptomatic, and no method to prevent its transmission is completely effective absent a widely distributed vaccine, which is still months away at the earliest.

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