Harmful sanitisers could lead to class action lawsuits, say underwriters
Durban - A South African underwriting firm said on Wednesday retailers could potentially face a new surge of class action and personal injury claims for negligence regarding the use of harmful products such as hand sanitisers at store entrances.
The country's large retailers and smaller businesses have been spraying customers with alcohol-based hand sanitiser in order to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
Many people have, however, reported reacting negatively to the sanitisers, and in some cases, have said the skin on their hands is peeling, or the area becomes inflamed.
According to Bonginkosi Ntuli, a claims specialist for professional indemnity and liability claims at SHA Specialist Underwriters, said while it was debatable retailers could be held legally accountable for allergic reactions to hand sanitisers, they should nevertheless "act cautiously and ensure they have adequate cover in place".
“Government issued a directive requiring all stores to comply by ensuring that they have hand sanitisers available, with the only requirement being that they should be 70% alcohol based," said Ntuli.
"Retailers had to be compliant by order of law, and may not have had enough time to conduct thorough testing. Scientific study will likely show that in any control group, a percentage of people could expect adverse reactions to any product. The question is whether stores can be held legally accountable if, for example, one out of every 10 000 people has a non-lethal reaction. Should the risk of averting Covid-19 enjoy priority over general consumer safety?"
Ntuli said it would be "interesting" to see if courts believed the Consumer Protection Act was applicable in such cases, as the sanitisers were applied as a pre-requisite to entering stores.
He said that even if retailers were not held legally accountable for injury or damages in this regard, they were at risk of losing substantial amounts of money if they were not adequately insured against personal injury claims.
“For a claimant to successfully sue a retailer, they would be required to prove that the harm caused was a direct or indirect result of the harmful product supplied by the store. While the court’s judgement may ultimately be in favour of the retailer, the legal fees that one incurs while defending such claims, can have a significant impact on a business.”
Ntuli said the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated worldwide that whether in business or government, compliance was needed.
“The current regulations under the Disaster Management Act is in some respects a moving target. As long as there is a responsible officer or company director in charge of these issues – there should be some structure in place to deal with a fluid compliance environment.”
He said retailers should be cautious with the products they used to sanitise their stores, staff and customers.
African News Agency/ANA
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