Restaurants are reopening for in-person, indoor service across the United States. It is a welcome opportunity to get back to business with some semblance of “normal.” After the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on the industry, restaurants are eager to make sure patrons and staff feel welcome and as safe as possible. And while a message of safety might help ease diners back into booths and barstools, it will also put your restaurant at risk of litigation and what I call “Nuclear Verdicts.”
From high-tech app-driven establishments that offer little-to-no contact with another human being, to mom-and-pop shops that post signage in their windows and promise on their websites, restaurants’ claims of ensuring the health and safety of everyone that comes through their doors are fueling lawsuits and ultimately, potential Nuclear Verdicts — a term used to describe jury verdicts that exceed $10 million or where the total award is disproportionate to the economic loss.
Certainly, restaurants are working hard to create a safe environment for patrons, keeping a vigilant eye on cleaning protocols and dedicating resources to maintaining diner and staff safety amid the pandemic. But the rampant use of statements like “safety is our top priority” in the hospitality industry is increasing restaurants’ exposure to all types of lawsuits, even long after this pandemic is over.