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. Leaders in the Ohio House and Senate understand this and thus have made passing legislation to address liability protections for employers as they re-open a top priority.
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 an effort to protect our members and your clients from future liability related to COVID-19, OIA has testified in support of S.B. 308, which would grant qualified civil immunity to health care providers and service providers during declared disasters. The service providers would include many of your clients that provide lodging, sheltering, groceries, pharmaceutical products, fuel products, other products, retail merchandise, manufacturing, care, religious or other nonprofit services.
Specifically, the bill provides that a service provider is not liable in damages to any person in a civil action for injury, death, or loss to person or property resulting from, or related to, the person’s actual or alleged exposure to an illness in the course of or through that provider’s provision of services. S.B. 308 would not provide immunity in cases in which reckless or willful or wanton misconduct apply.
If passed, this legislation will apply to all future declared disasters – in other words, this is not a temporary measure that will just apply to the current COVID situation. Furthermore, the legislation would be retroactive to the date Ohio (or the federal government) declared a disaster and would apply for 180 days after the disaster declaration ends.
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. S.B. 308 addresses this issue and will allow businesses some much needed certainty in an uncertain time. 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.
In addition to S.B. 308, the Ohio House has been holding hearings on House Bill 606 which is also aimed at providing qualified civil immunity for healthcare providers and facilities as well as general business operations. Read OIA’s full testimony before the Ohio House Civil Justice Committee in support of H.B. 606.
Both S.B. 308 and H.B. 606 restrict lawsuits for contraction or exposure to the Coronavirus unless the actions of a business are reckless, intentional, or willful or wanton. The major difference between Senate Bill 308 and House Bill 606 is that the House legislation has a firm end date of the immunity language on Dec. 31, 2020. Furthermore, H.B. 606 does not directly address product liability, while S.B. 308 has a class action ban for these claims.
At this time, both bills are scheduled to have hearings this week. We are hopeful that the Ohio House and Senate can reach an agreement on a final bill to provide this much needed protection for Ohio’s employers prior to the General Assembly recessing mid-June for the summer.