Senior Communities Want Protection From COVID Lawsuits

Members of the governing body were in favor of protecting senior community management from lawsuits. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

  BERKELEY – While the governor has slowly opened up parts of the state to gatherings, senior clubhouses remain closed, much to the ire of people living there.

  There’s a safety factor, sure. The communities need staff to make sure that all the facilities are clean. And who is going to police the use of masks?

  But there’s a different legal aspect as well, that of civil lawsuits. Insurance companies don’t protect senior communities from issues stemming from the spread of disease, said Councilman Michael Signorile, who is also the president of the Senior Coalition of Berkeley Township.

  The staff and management can do everything right and if someone gets sick they can still sue, he said. Not only can they sue the homeowners association, but they can sue the individual officers.

  Senior officers want to make sure that they are protected from lawsuits while they are acting in good faith.

  At the most recent Township Council meeting, they voted unanimously in support of a new bill that would provide immunity to senior development associations relating to COVID-19. The Senate bill is S-3584. The Assembly bill is A-4979. They have to pass both houses in order to become law. The vote represented the council showing that they wanted it to pass.

  “There’s been a big push from the senior communities,” Mayor Carmen Amato said. “There’s apprehension – and rightfully so – about re-opening.”

  The mayor recently sent a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.

  It said, in part, “The health and welfare of our senior population depends on their ability to socialize and interact with peers. Our seniors have been shut in so long that it is having devastating effects on their mental health and well-being. Berkeley Township has one of the highest senior populations in the state and I hear from them every day. Not being able to go to their club houses to interact with others, and enjoy the pools and other amenities which their Senior Planned Real Estate Development Association provides has been life changing. The anticipation that they might have to go into another summer with these facilities unavailable to them is truly heart breaking.

  “The officers of all ten of the (senior communities) in Berkeley Township have told me that they do not feel they can open their facilities due to the threat of litigation should someone assert that they contracted COVID-19 while in their clubhouse or at their pool. This proposed legislation rightfully gives immunity to (senior community associations) provided they act in good faith.”