Can Library Patrons Sue Libraries for Contracting COVID?

April 26, 2021

When libraries closed their doors in 2020, the American Library Association recommended they not reopen until library staff and the public were no longer at risk of contracting or spreading the coronavirus. As libraries have slowly transitioned back to in-person services, many have met the unforeseen challenge of varying public perceptions of contagion risk. This obstacle has caused some to reevaluate their library insurance out of fear of potential lawsuits from patrons claiming to have contracted COVID-19 at the library.

Policies for Reopening

Because reopening their doors was a decision left to each individual library system or branch, the extent to which policies protect patrons from infection varies among locations. The ALA offered guidelines that fall into the two general categories of reviewing government policies and creating new, location-specific policies.

The ALA’s advice for the creation of new policies was that each policy meets the following criteria:

  • Compliant with the ALA Bill of Rights and Policy Guidelines
  • Reasonable and necessary, with documentation to indicate why it is so
  • Possible for staff to apply objectively and consistently
  • Able to be appealed when it denies access to library premises or resources

Patron Rights

At issue in patron reactions to library policies is the fine line between the right of an individual to use a public facility and the right of others to be safe from that person. Carriers of COVID-19 may therefore argue that policies unfairly exclude them, especially if they subscribe to an ideology that denies the virus’s severity. Others, however, may sue to protect their rights to use the library without fear of infection.

More than a decade before the current pandemic, legal experts were discussing the library’s role in spreading transmissible diseases such as pink eye. The Library Bill of Rights states that library staff should not deny access to anyone based on origin, age, background, or views, but does not explicitly mention contagious infections. Thus, the issue of patron rights has always been subject to interpretation when it comes to health.

Insurance and Injury Waivers

General liability insurance for libraries covers personal injury and property damage that occurs on the premises. Some librarians also carry professional liability coverage to protect themselves from claims of negligence. This insurance would be especially useful if a patron sued for lack of enforcement of library policies.

Some libraries go a step further by requiring patrons to sign an exculpatory agreement upon entering the building, checking out materials, or participating in programs. This document is a statement affirming that patrons will not hold the library or its staff liable if they become ill. While these documents are legally binding, signing one does not prevent someone who contracts COVID-19 from suing the library.

About Regan Agency

A family-owned business, Long Island-based Regan Agency has more than 35 years of experience serving the library insurance and risk management needs of Tri-State residents and businesses. We have earned the trust of our clients based on our integrity and commitment to offer individuals and businesses quality library insurance products at competitive prices backed by unparalleled responsive service. Just give one of our professionals a call at (855) 272-1194.