There are several legal implications arising from the sudden spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) into a global pandemic.

For businesses, contracts, investment and funding arrangements will be tested and maybe breached. Emergency and “act of God” clauses are being reviewed for venture projects. Supplies chain agreements and funding provisions are now under legal scrutiny.

Coronavirus is unlikely to cause a spike in personal injury claims. A comparison is the Influenza in Vancouver, 1918-1919. This pandemic was devastating, killing about 800 Vancouverites. Although there was financial distress the pandemic quickly disappeared from public focus. There were no protracted personal injury disputes of note in 1919. Federal Bankruptcy legislation was however spurred on at the time due in part to business losses.

For private citizens, criminally, it is unsettled. It may be criminal to intentionally transmit the virus to a partner or other without informing them of a positive COVID-19 test. The Criminal Code does not contain COVID-19. Offences have however been applied in HIV cases of aggravated sexual assault. Failing to disclose a positive test for the coronavirus prior to sexual activity could therefore also invalidate consent.

Knowingly putting others into contact with COVID-19 could expose businesses to liability under occupier liability legislation. Business loss and other financial losses could be claimed on account of negligent transmission of the coronavirus .

Parliament has the power to pass federal laws for pandemic preparedness. Under the criminal law and quarantine powers the federal jurisdiction may trump provincial law even the health and safety response is inadequate. This could impact employment contracts and collective agreements.

The significant fact is that we can expect the coronavirus to disrupt our normal lives in the coming months. Some people and business will need a competent legal team to guide them through the crisis. The lawyers at Holness and Small are well positioned, with a depth of experience and knowledge to answer the call.

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