Congress Pushed to Enact Broad Legislation Limiting Liability From COVID-19 Lawsuits

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups are asking Congress to implement broad federal legislation to provide temporary liability protections for businesses and educational institutions from civil lawsuits based on COVID-19 exposure. The push for federal legislation comes after several states have enacted their own legislation to provide limited immunity for employers and businesses.

For example, as part of its COVID-19 relief legislation, North Carolina’s Governor signed into law Senate Bill 704 on May 4, extending limited immunity (meaning no proof of willful misconduct or reckless/intentional infliction of harm) to essential businesses from civil lawsuits by employees or customers claiming they contracted COVID-19 while being employed by, or doing business with, essential businesses.

Utah Senate Bill 3007, also enacted on May 4, provides limited immunity to all persons and entities from civil liability for damages or injury resulting from COVID-19 exposure on the premises owned by the person or entity (again).

On May 20, 2020, the Governor of Wyoming signed into law Senate File 1002, which established two types of limits on liability for employers. First, the law established that COVID-19 is an injury that is presumptively covered under the state’s workers’ compensation program (thus preventing a claimant from bringing a negligence case against the employer). Moreover, the bill clarified its statute on immunity from liability during public health emergencies. It extended limited immunity to businesses that, in good faith, comply with public health official instructions or respond in good faith to the public health emergency.

On June 5, the Illinois Governor enacted legislation creating a rebuttable presumption that a first responder or front-line worker’s contraction of COVID-19 arose from the employee’s employment.

Notably, however, the legislatures of Colorado and Kansas recently failed to pass bills that were introduced to create similar “rebuttable presumptions” concerning COVID-19 exposure under their workers’ compensation statutes. Likewise, the Arizona Senate adjourned in May without taking action on a bill that passed in the Arizona House that would have limited liability for businesses from COVID-19 claims.

According to the COVID-19 Complaint Tracker (https://www.huntonak.com/en/covid-19-tracker.html), maintained by the law firm of Hunton Andrews Kurth, more than 175 COVID-19 labor and employment lawsuits have been filed nationwide.

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