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States Provide Shields against COVID-19 Suits States Provide Shields against COVID-19 Suits

States Provide Shields against COVID-19 Suits

As Congress continues to debate the SAFE TO WORK Act, which would provide civil liability protections to certain companies across the nation for coronavirus-related injuries, many states have already passed laws designed to provide employers and others with a legal shield against coronavirus-related lawsuits. Several have already passed such legislation, including Ohio, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming.[1] Other states, including Indiana, are actively considering legislation, and all signs point to more states joining the trend.

Each state of course has its own variations, but they all follow a central theme. Namely, states are trying to make it difficult for plaintiffs to sue private businesses for coronavirus-related injuries, so businesses can keep their focus on reopening and stimulating the local economy, rather than worrying about the possibility of litigation. The primary method states are following is to require would-be plaintiffs to prove a company recklessly or intentionally inflicted the coronavirus upon a customer or employee. The practical effect of this change in state tort law, which replaces the more lenient failure to use reasonable care negligence standard, will be to largely eliminate all but the most egregious of coronavirus-related injury suits.

In addition to corporate employers, most of the state laws have special protections for health care workers and product manufacturers. Under these laws, health care professionals are generally protected from any ordinary claim of negligence, if they can claim their actions were in any way related to the coronavirus emergency. Similarly, manufacturers of PPE and medical supplies are provided broad immunity from claims regarding defective products. These laws are typically retroactive and extend past the end of each state’s state of emergency.

As mentioned, each state has its own unique twist on the overall concept. For example, Georgia’s law[2] includes a sample notice, and employers who post that notice on their doors are provided an added shield; any customer who enters a Georgia business with the notice posted is presumed to have assumed the risk of contracting the coronavirus. In Iowa[3], a plaintiff must have either been hospitalized or killed because of the virus in order to file suit. Mississippi[4] has created a special statute of limitations for coronavirus-related litigation, requiring all claims to be filed within two years of the alleged injury.

Some states have taken a more narrow approach, offering immunity to health care providers and PPE suppliers, but not corporations generally. These states include Alaska, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Wisconsin.[5] In addition, some state governors have taken executive action to provide limited immunity to health care providers, including the governors of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia.

Although each state mentioned in this article has passed similar language providing immunity, businesses should contact an attorney to understand fully what responsibilities they may have under these new laws.
If you have questions concerning state-specific or other proposed legislation and/or its potential applicability to you, please reach out to the Ice Miller COVID-19 Task Force for more information.

This publication is intended for general information purposes only and does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice. The reader should consult with legal counsel to determine how laws or decisions discussed herein apply to the reader’s specific circumstances.
[1] Ohio H.B. 606; Georgia SB 359; Idaho HB 6; Iowa SF 2338; Kansas HB 2016 a; Louisiana HB 826; Mississippi SB 3049; North Carolina SB 704; Oklahoma S. B. 300; Tenn. Code Ann. § 58-2-107(l)(1) triggered by Tenn. Exec Order 14; Utah SB 3002; Wyoming SF 1002.
[2] Georgia SB 359.
[3] Iowa SF 2338.
[4] Mississippi SB 3049.
[5] Alaska SB 241; Kentucky SB 150; Massachusetts S 2640; New Jersey S 2333; New York S 7506B; 2019 Wisconsin Act 185.
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