Fate of Much-Needed Protections for Ohio Businesses Uncertain

One of the keys to getting the economy restarted is properly protecting businesses from lawsuits related to COVID-19 claims. As we move forward with reopening Ohio, there are many fears and risks with the liability exposure that businesses face as they move to reopen. The fears and risks could further cripple the economic recovery.

With over 85% of Ohio businesses securing their insurance coverage through an independent insurance agent, OIA members will face unique challenges with the many retail establishments, restaurants, gyms, daycares, manufacturers, hotels, nonprofits and churches that we protect.

In a surprising disappointment, the Ohio General Assembly failed to pass legislation to address liability protections for employers as they re-open prior to the Ohio House recessing for the summer. This has left many in the business community scratching their heads wondering why this issue, which was deemed a top priority by both House and Senate leaders, has been left unsettled.

In an effort to protect our members and your clients from future liability related to COVID-19, OIA testified in support of two separate measures to provide protections for business by restricting  lawsuits for contraction or exposure to the Coronavirus unless the actions of a business are reckless, intentional, or willful or wanton. These measures, Ohio House Bill 606 and Ohio Senate Bill 308, were moving quickly through the legislative process in an effort to provide relief for businesses. In fact, the Ohio House passed H.B. 606 on May 28 and the Ohio Senate passed S.B. 308 on June 3. Once this happened, these bills then needed to begin consideration in the other respective legislative chamber. Unfortunately, prior to H.B. 606 passing it was amended on the House floor with language to add a presumption for purposes of workers’ compensation that certain professions like grocery store workers, police, fire, EMS, and food manufacturing workers would be presumed to have contracted COVID at work—if they tested positive for COVID.  The addition of this language poses problems for the bill’s ultimate support by numerous groups in the business community, including OIA. Regardless, the Senate held a hearing on H.B. 606 on June 10th and also on June 24th. The House did not begin hearings on S.B. 308 prior to leaving for summer. Ultimately, the two chambers failed to come to an agreement on this issue and its fate is unknown at this time.

We believe that without proper legal protections in place, businesses are in a no-win situation where they want to open to try to survive and serve their customers, but they also face a situation where risk inherently exists even when all safety protocols are followed.

While significant economic support has been provided to businesses, civil liability protection is now the next logical step of support that is needed. As businesses re-open the risk of spreading the virus still remains, so employers need protection from potential coronavirus exposure lawsuits.

Read OIA’s full testimony before the Ohio Senate Civil Justice Committee in support of S.B. 308.

Read OIA’s full testimony before the Ohio House Civil Justice Committee in support of H.B. 606.

Will Federal Action Save the Day?
On the federal level, Republicans in the U.S. Senate are pushing for action on this issue and a bill will likely be introduced in July. The legislation being drafted will seek to let employers choose which government coronavirus safety guidelines to follow in order to be shielded from lawsuits if their customers or workers contract the virus. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated any further support for an additional coronavirus-related stimulus package from his caucus will be contingent on this issue being addressed.

OIA will provide updates on any developments that occur on this issue at the state or federal level.

 

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