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May 2021

Senior Communities Seek Open Clubhouses, Immunity From Covid Lawsuits

By Eric San Juan
Leaders in local retirement communities want to open their pools and clubhouses and begin inching back to normalcy as much as you do – but not if it means being held liable for the spread of Covid-19.
With that in mind, the town council passed a resolution last month in support of a bill currently in front of the state legislature that would protect age-restricted communities from liability if a resident were to get a sick as a result of social interaction at their community clubhouse, pool, or other facilities.
“There’s a big push from our senior communities to get them open. A lot of the residents want to start going back to their clubhouses for their recreation events, they want their pools open. They want their trips to resume, but there’s apprehension, rightfully so, among the leadership of the various associations because of the potential liability if they do open up,” Mayor Carmen Amato said.
Councilman Mike Signorile, also President of the Holiday City South homeowner’s association, said Berkeley’s senior communities have struggled with the issue since the pandemic began shutting things down last year.
“We were unaware of this (but) back when SARS came around, the insurance companies dropped any coverage for viruses, so we have virtually no indemnity should something happen. Should someone catch the virus, they could sue us,” Signorile said. “Not only is the association liable, but the officers of the association are personally.”
This was made clear to community leaders last year, when an attorney outlined three areas of concern for senior communities hoping to open up their amenities in the midst of the pandemic: Liability, Cost, and Safety.
Liability, because even if a community wins a lawsuit from someone who claims to have gotten sick at community facilities, the cost of fighting the suit could be high.
Cost, because putting strong enough measures in place to maintain a safe and healthy atmosphere would be cost-prohibitive.
And Safety, because public spaces where people gather can be vectors for Covid-19, and senior citizens are most at risk to its worst effects.
But with more and more residents being vaccinated, the warmer months approaching, and many simply eager to get out of the house, leadership is looking for ways to do it safely and without putting communities in legal jeopardy.
As this story goes to press, NJ Senate bill S3584 and Assembly bill A4979 are in front of the state legislature. These bills would provide immunity to planned communities, including senior communities, from legal action stemming from a Covid outbreak at their site.
“This has become a real thorn in our sides,” Signorile said. “Hopefully these two bills will go through and the governor will sign them. We’re pushing to get this done so we can open our facilities and get our seniors back to their normal activity.”
Being vaccinated can greatly minimize the risk of contracting Covid, both by helping prevent infection and by minimizing the impact of Covid if a victim is infected.
Some 8 out of 10 Covid-19 deaths in the United States have been of people aged 65 or older. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Older adults are at greater risk of requiring hospitalization or dying if they are diagnosed with COVID-19. As you get older, your risk of being hospitalized for COVID-19 increases.”
Ocean County has set up a hotline to handle questions about Covid-19. The number is 833-544-0288 or 732-380-5079.