July 5, 2020

States Pass COVID-19 Liability Limitations

In the last month, two states have passed measures to limit civil liabilities tied to COVID-19, and other states are considering similar policies, which could foreshadow a legislative movement across the country

First, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed two executive orders on this topic.

Executive Order 20-33 protects businesses that open or remain open during the pandemic from civil liability for damages or injuries caused by or resulting from exposure of an individual to COVID-19 on business premises. This immunity does not apply to willful, reckless, or intentional misconduct resulting in injury or damages. However, this immunity does not extend to workers’ comp benefits.

Executive Order 20-34 authorizes all licensed and certified healthcare providers to provide services in their normal course of business operations for the purpose of diagnosis, treating, or mitigating COVID-19, while also providing immunity from liability for any death, injury, or property damage alleged to have been sustained as a result of or omission by such healthcare providers.

Shortly thereafter, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards recently signed two new bills into law, limiting liability around COVID-19 exposure.

House Bill 826 establishes that no person, state or local government, or political subdivision thereof shall be liable for any civil damages for injury or death resulting from or related to actual or alleged exposure to COVID-19 in the course of business operations. However, this clause does not apply when a party failed to substantially comply with applicable COVID-19 procedures established by the federal, state, or local agency which governs business operations. Furthermore, the presence of gross negligence or wanton or reckless misconduct nullifies this rule.

In addition, employees who contract COVID-19 due to workplace exposure are entitled to workers’ comp, but they shall have no remedy based in tort, unless exposure was intentional. Interestingly, this bill creates similar liability protections for parties that handle large gatherings, including business event strategists, association meeting planners, independent tradeshow organizers, and other hosting entities.

House Bill 59 passes similar protections from liability to public and private schools, as well as their districts, governing authorities, charter school governing authorities, and the officers, employees, and agents thereof. This bill also applies the same rules to public and private postsecondary education systems, their institutions, education management boards, officers, employees, and agents thereof.

At this time, New York is considering similar legislation, having introduced Senate Bill 8800, which would apply to individuals, businesses, trusts, legal representatives, corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, joint stock companies, universities, schools, non-profit organizations, religious organizations, and more. This bill is still undergoing discussion.

Furthermore, while information is constantly changing, at this time discussions surrounding another federal coronavirus relief bill from the U.S. Senate include the utilization of similar liability protections for schools and businesses that reopen.

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