Protection site

Legal protection of senior clubs against COVID in question

Signs like these on the door of the Silver Ridge Park West clubhouse explain the COVID regulations to visitors. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

BERKELEY – There was a great sigh of relief when the elderly communities opened up their public buildings and allowed residents to use their amenities like swimming pools and meeting rooms. However, protection against lawsuits against these communities is likely to be exhausted.

State law was changed to compensate those who manage these buildings. They are called “common spaces” and include more than just communities of older people. However, in this area it is almost entirely the elderly who are affected.

The law afforded protection from legal action against the community and members of its boards of directors. Before this protection was granted, a visitor could theoretically sue the Board of Directors and directors individually if they believed they had contracted the coronavirus in the clubhouse, for example. This protection expires on January 1, 2021.

It doesn’t matter that it is difficult to prove that a person contracted a virus in a particular place. All that matters is that a trial is possible. And a lawsuit could bankrupt a community or a board member.

Senator Christopher Connors (R-9e) has a bill to extend protection indefinitely. His bill was due to be posted at the next meeting of the Community Affairs Committee. It should pass it, then be voted on by the Senate and then be signed by the governor to pass. The assembly version should also go through these steps. That’s a lot to accomplish in a few weeks.

“We’re not sure we can walk through both houses in a lame duck session,” he said. Berkeley’s time.

The Silver Ridge Park West clubhouse is open for special events. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

“The bill is not without its problems,” he said. “Some lawmakers have expressed concern about permanent immunity that goes beyond a state of emergency.”

Therefore, the bill could be revised before it can be put to a vote, he said.

It is possible that the immunity will expire, he said. However, the governor could extend it by decree. Executive decrees have the advantage of being faster than legislative changes. Legislative changes have the advantage of being more durable.

Berkeley City Councilor Michael Signorile is Chairman of the Senior Coalition of Berkeley Township and the Holiday City South Homeowners Association. He said the protection should be extended indefinitely.

“These are all frivolous lawsuits,” he said. “No one is going to win. Only lawyers win.

Berkeley City Councilor Sophia Gingrich noted that senior community board members are volunteers and could be sued if this happens.

Berkeley Mayor Carmen Amato explained how the elderly were locked away during the pandemic, unable to move for safety reasons. Now they could be excluded from their own community spaces due to liability laws.

Toms River Mayor Maurice “Mo” Hill has said he supports protecting homeowners associations from lawsuits like this one.

“You can’t sue people for a contagious disease. It doesn’t make sense, ”he said. “There is no way to prove who gave you COVID.” For example, one person in an entire household can contract the coronavirus, but others cannot.

It won’t stop the prosecution, however, he said. Thus, the associations of owners must be compensated.

Photo by Chris Lundy

It has been a problem since the start of the pandemic. Swimming pools, pavilions and other amenities have been closed to the public. At first it was a matter of security. Homeowners associations did not have the staff to wipe down all surfaces or to monitor the area to keep people wearing masks and social distancing. Meanwhile, residents were furious at paying fees for closed amenities.

State Senate Bill S-3584 and Assembly Bill A-4979 created temporary immunity.

The bill reads as follows: “Any illness, injury, death or other damage resulting from, or related to, an exposure or transmission of COVID-19 on the premises of a planned real estate development shall not give rise to to any cause of action.

“The immunity provided for in paragraph a. of this article does not apply to acts or omissions constituting a crime, actual fraud, actual malice, gross negligence, recklessness or willful misconduct.

Photo by Chris Lundy

It is important to note that the law protects all homeowner’s associations, not just seniors’ associations. However, with this region home to more than 55 retirement projects than any other in New Jersey, the impact on seniors has been enormous.

Some elderly communities had started to slowly open up, changing their own policies. For example, one of them had residents sign a waiver that they would not sue if they contracted coronavirus. Some only allowed members in their facilities, not guests.