Trump campaign's bid to avoid suits with virus liability waiver won't work: Experts

US President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, on March 2, 2020.
US President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, on March 2, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • The attempt by US President Donald Trump's campaign to shield itself from lawsuits by people who become infected with Covid-19 at his first political rally in months is unlikely to hold up in court, legal experts said, and his top health advisers have warned that the pandemic is far from over.

The Republican President announced last Wednesday that he would resume his campaign rallies in four states - Oklahoma, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina - despite the coronavirus pandemic, which continues to rage in the United States.

Raucous rallies have been a hallmark of Mr Trump's presidency and a key to energising his base, which he hopes will turn out in big numbers on Nov 3.

He is currently lagging in the polls against Democrat Joe Biden.

Mr Trump's campaign officials are unlikely to put into place any social distancing measures for rally attendees, or require them to wear face masks, people familiar with the decision-making process said, adding that it would be unnecessary because Oklahoma state is so far along in its reopening.

Mr Trump has also made it clear he does not want to speak in front of gatherings that look empty because of social distancing, or to look out on a sea of covered faces as he tries to project a positive message about the country returning to normal life and the economy roaring back, even as his top health advisers have warned about the ongoing pandemic.

"Oh my goodness," Dr Anthony Fauci, the federal government's top infectious disease expert, said last Tuesday.

"Where is it going to end? We're still at the beginning of it."

Campaign officials said that they were considering some modest attempts at reducing risk by providing hand sanitiser on site, but said that no final decisions had been made about how to safely bring together a large group of people.

Mr Trump's supporters must, however, sign a waiver promising not to sue if they catch Covid-19 at the June 20 event.

A waiver on the Trump campaign's website absolving it from coronavirus-related lawsuits stemming from the June 20 event is "poorly lawyered" and would not be enforceable because it is not specific enough, said Rutgers University law professor David Noll.

"There are a lot of boxes you have to check in order to have an enforceable liability waiver, and the language they have added to their website is not enough."

For a waiver to block a negligence claim, "the word 'negligence' has to appear" in it, said law professor Adam Zimmerman from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

The Trump campaign would, however, have other defences against a negligence lawsuit, experts said.

Someone who attends a Trump rally and then contracts Covid-19 will have a hard time proving they were infected at the event, Prof Noll said.

REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 14, 2020, with the headline 'Trump campaign's bid to avoid suits with virus liability waiver won't work: Experts'. Print Edition | Subscribe