Trump campaign’s waiver won’t block coronavirus lawsuits: experts


(Reuters) – The attempt by U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign to shield itself from lawsuits by people who become infected with the coronavirus at his first political rally in months is unlikely to hold up in court, legal experts said.

A waiver on the Trump campaign’s website absolving it from coronavirus-related lawsuits stemming from the June 19 event is “poorly lawyered” and would not be enforceable because it is not specific enough, said David Noll, a law professor at Rutgers University.

“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,” Noll said.

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Republican president is holding a rally on June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a heavily Republican state he won by more than 36 percentage points in 2016. It is his first rally since the coronavirus shuttered most of the United States three months ago.

The online sign-up page for the event states that the campaign, the owner of the venue, and other companies cannot be held liable for exposure to the coronavirus.

“By clicking register below, you are acknowledging that an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present,” the waiver says.

It says that anyone attending the rally voluntarily assumes “all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.”

The problem for the Trump campaign is that waivers must be specific about the claim that is being relinquished, said Adam Zimmerman, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

For a waiver to block a negligence claim, “the word ‘negligence’ has to appear” in it, Zimmerman said.

The Trump campaign “seems to have opted for the worst of both worlds: It wrote a waiver that’s less than waterproof but still offensive enough to attract bad press,” Daniel Hemel, a law professor at the University of Chicago, posted on Twitter.

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

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

Proving “causation” is easier for people who are stuck in one place, like a cruise ship, for a prolonged period, he said.

The campaign could also say the plaintiff “assumed the risk,” of attending the rally, Zimmerman said.

Liability waivers are becoming increasingly common as states lift pandemic lockdowns.

“As the economy opens up, many businesses will be using some kind of waiver,” Noll said. “What is notable about the Trump campaign’s waiver is that they just did such a bad job — that they didn’t lawyer it more competently.”

Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Jonathan Oatis