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Law360 (June 24, 2021, 5:38 PM EDT) -- The New Jersey General Assembly on Thursday unanimously passed bipartisan legislation that would bar lawsuits over the spread of COVID-19 at real estate developments through the end of the year as long as warning signs are placed at the entrances of pools, gyms and other communal spaces.
In a 74-0 vote without any discussion, the Assembly passed S.B. 3584, a measure that supporters have said would ease the fears of homeowners associations and similar entities that they could be pulled into court after reopening such amenities and face claims for which insurance coverage is not available.
"This is a win for those homeowners associations that chose to keep communal areas closed in 2020 due to liability concerns relating to Covid-19," Assemblyman Brian Bergen, R-Morris, a sponsor of the Assembly version of the bill, said in a statement following Thursday's vote.
"My bill will allow them to open those areas at their discretion while protecting them from lawsuits should any residents or guests be exposed to or come down with the disease," Bergen said. "Condominium and townhome residents can get back into their shared pools and gyms."
The pending immunity under the proposed bill comes as Gov. Phil Murphy has largely lifted coronavirus-related restrictions amid improving public health conditions. The crisis has led to more than 23,000 deaths and devastated businesses in the state, but the number of COVID-19 cases has declined as more New Jerseyans have gotten vaccinated.
Throughout the outbreak, state lawmakers have considered different types of immunity from COVID-19 suits, with varying degrees of movement. While immunity for medical facilities and health care workers has been approved, bills aimed at shielding businesses from such liability have stalled.
But the immunity proposal for real estate developments has gained momentum over the past month.
The state Senate on June 3 unanimously approved an earlier version of S.B. 3584. According to that version, "any illness, injury, death, or other damages arising from, or related to, an exposure to, or transmission of, COVID-19 on the premises of a planned real estate development shall not give rise to any cause of action."
That version also stated that the immunity "shall not apply to acts or omissions constituting a crime, actual fraud, actual malice, gross negligence, recklessness, or willful misconduct."
On June 16, the Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee advanced the bill with amendments, including the warning sign provision. Those amendments await further action in the Senate.
The committee amendments tweaked the language of the bill to state that "a planned real estate development shall be immune from civil liability for damages arising from, or related to, an exposure to, or transmission of, COVID-19" on its premises as long as the development has "prominently displayed" a warning sign at communal space entrances.
Those signs must read, "Any person entering the premises waives all civil liability against the planned real estate development for damages arising from, or related to, an exposure to, or transmission of, COVID-19 on the premises, except for acts or omissions constituting a crime, actual fraud, actual malice, gross negligence, recklessness, or willful misconduct," the bill states.
The amendments further specified that nothing in the immunity section of the bill "shall be construed to limit or modify any claim for relief under the [state's] workers' compensation law," and that the bill "shall expire on the first day of calendar year 2022."
--Editing by Michael Watanabe.
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