Small Businesses: Possible Liability if You Stay Open During Corona, Out of Business if You Close


The Coronavirus is a no-win situation for small businesses and people in St. Louis, Missouri. Although health experts agree that social distancing and isolation is the BEST way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, some small businesses might have to shut their doors forever if they do not produce revenue. 

Since the Coronavirus pandemic, some businesses have been able to conduct daily tasks through phone and video conferencing. Some gyms are offering online fitness classes. Coffee shops are doing drive through and carry out only. However, many legal and mortgage documents MUST be signed and notarized in person. Bank documents also must be signed in person.

Additionally there is possible premise liability for business owners if someone were to contract the coronavirus and it gets traced to your business. It’s important for small business in Missouri to be aware of the legal aspects of Coronavirus.

Possible liability for business owners

Business owners with premises open to the public have a duty to their customers and clients. They have an obligation to maintain a reasonably safe environment by (1). warning and (2.) Protecting against hazardous conditions. Businesses that are open to the public during this time could include grocery stores, liquor stores, places that are grab and go like Starbucks.

While dangers that are open and obvious do not impose liability on a business owner, in some cases, even if a danger is clear, that business owner could still be held liable if the risk of harm is foreseeable. 

For example: if a business is offering carry out services, or drop-in and leave services but do not have people disinfecting the door knobs and taking reasonable steps to make sure that every point of touch is sanitized, they could be found liable if there is a COVID outbreak. Most hospitals and health care facilities now take patient’s and provider’s temperatures before they enter the hospital. Should restaurants and grocery stores do the same?

Businesses have a duty to protect customers from dangers

A plaintiff could claim that a business failed to take appropriate precautions such as providing hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes, switching to disposable dishware, having employees wear protective masks or gloves, or engaging specialized cleaning companies. 

Duty to Warn

For a communicable disease like COVID-19, a plaintiff could claim that a business owner should have provided warning if they had reason to know someone suspected of having, or diagnosed with, COVID-19 was recently on the premises, like an employee. More generally, a warning can be something as simple as a sign communicating why a coffee shop has switched to disposable cups, a gym sending a message to its members explaining why class sizes have decreased in size, or a hair salon justifying their stylists wearing face masks even though they are healthy.


This is an element in a lawsuit action that would be difficult for the Plaintiff to prove where they contracted the disease because COVID has an incubation period. However, if a cluster of people were diagnosed with COVID-19 and had a visit to the same establishment in common, that business will face some problems.


So if you are a business open in St. Louis, Missouri during these times, please take the utmost amount of precaution, and remember to place warning signs to avoid some liability.

Disclaimer: The choice of an attorney is important and should not be solely based upon advertisements. Each DWI case is different and you should consult with an attorney on specific legal issues.

If a cluster of people were diagnosed with COVID-19 and had a visit to the same establishment in common, that business will face some problems.

Brendan Block

Attorney at Law

Brendan practices law in St. Louis, Missouri and surrounding areas. He handles all criminal cases, but especially DWI, shoplifting, theft and possession cases. He is a former prosecutor who now defends his clients with the utmost care and attention. 

"I literally don't know what I would have done without Mr. Block. A police officer stopped me and "smelled" weed on me and ended up charging me with possession and paraphanalia and intention to sell. A joke!!!!

Theres no way I could have afforded the charges or some big law firm. Brendan explained to me what he was doing to win and how he was taking care of it. And he kept me out of jail and saved me tons of money! So thankful for his help!!!"
Loretta K.
St. Charles, MO


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