Visitors to Disney Parks Take All the COVID-19 Risk

Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) reopened its Florida theme parks, hotels and Disney Springs complex 10 days ago after being closed for more than two months due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Disneyland park in California remains closed, and the company closed its Hong Kong park last week after it had been open for about a month.

The company has posted a blizzard of information on how it plans to maintain a safe environment for visitors, along with a requirement that those visitors wear facemasks and take a temperature screening before entering some of the parks.

The bottom line remains that visitors are responsible for their own health. Here’s what visitors to Florida’s Disney World are told: “By visiting Walt Disney World Resort you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.”

The U.S. Congress continues to debate a proposal from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) that would shield employers against lawsuits by employees and customers who are exposed to COVID-19. If passed, such lawsuits would be heard in federal court and an employer’s legal liability would be limited to actions that represent “gross negligence or intentional misconduct.”

The House bill that authorizes another $3.5 trillion in funding to battle the economic effects of the pandemic requires the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue temporary COVID-19 safety measures as soon as the bill is enacted. Because the Republican proposal also shields colleges and universities from liability, Democrats have not dismissed the proposal out of hand.

According to legal professional resource website JDSupra, no court has yet considered whether a liability waiver in the context of a pandemic is enforceable. Customers waiving liability during a pandemic is not the same as having them waive liability when they use a treadmill at their favorite gym. It is possible, according to JDSupra, that liability waivers in the context of the pandemic “may be deemed enforceable so that … non-essential businesses can operate with some level of protection.”

Disney’s assignment of all the risks of visiting its parks during the pandemic to its customers may or may not hold up in court. Even if the waivers don’t offer significant protection against lawsuits, how much risk is a potential visitor willing to take for a few thrills while piloting the Millennium Falcon?

Perhaps Disney reopened its parks too soon, given the still rampaging coronavirus.