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Critical COVID lawsuit immunity for businesses passes, awaits Governor’s signature

Written on Sep 2, 2020

OSCPA staff report

After months of lobbying by OSCPA and thanks to the leadership of House Speaker Bob Cupp, Senate President Larry Obhof and other key legislators, the Ohio Legislature has passed critical legislation – House Bill 606 – that will provide civil immunity for businesses and health care entities for actions taken during the coronavirus pandemic. The Senate concurrence vote took place Sept. 1 followed the next day by the House approval.

The bill now heads to Gov. Mike DeWine, who is expected to sign it soon; it will become law 90 days after his signature. It will apply retroactively from the date of the state of emergency from COVID-19, Executive Order 2020-01D issued on March 9, and extends through Sept. 30, 2021.

This new law will provide qualified civil immunity related to claimed injury, death or loss tied to exposure to or transmission of COVID-19 to “persons,” which includes individuals, corporations, business trusts, estates, trusts, partnerships, associations, schools, government entities, religious entities or a “state institution of higher education.”

Examples of protected actions:

  • Health care services provided as a result of and in response to COVID that cause injury, death or loss allegedly relating to the provision, withholding or withdrawal of those services.
  • Injury, death or loss allegedly resulting because a health care worker was unable to treat a person for specified reasons.
  • Civil actions claiming damages for injury, death or loss to person or property if the action is based in whole or part that the injury, death or loss is caused by exposure to or the transmission or contraction of COVID. For example, if an employee, customer or patient claimed they were exposed to, contracted or were otherwise injured at a specific business or facility.

No immunity is granted in cases involving reckless or intentional acts.

The bill has widespread support from OSCPA and the broader business community, health care providers and government entities because without this new law, it is anticipated that – as is occurring in other states – Ohio will experience a significant number of lawsuits filed by employees, customers, patients and anyone else who could claim harm because a business, health care entity or other operation was a source of a COVID-19 exposure or contraction.

The bill had been delayed in part because of a last-minute addition of poison pill language just before the House’s summer break. At the request of OSCPA and others in the business community, the Senate removed the troublesome amendment, which would have defined COVID-19 for workers’ compensation purposes as an occupational disease for certain workers. This would have shifted the burden to the employer to prove that the worker did not get the injury at work and would have set a dangerous precedent. New House Speaker Cupp and President Obhof brought the House and Senate back early in large part to address this key legislation.

OSCPA this spring testified in support of both HB 606 and companion legislation – Senate Bill 308 – and many of the issues expressed in our testimony are now addressed by the legislation.

“The risk of an onslaught of virus-related lawsuits is high, and the cost of defending even a single lawsuit could force an already struggling small business to permanently close,” the Society wrote.

In recent weeks the Ohio Alliance for Civil Justice – of which OSCPA is a leader – sent a letter to House Speaker Robert Cupp calling for passage of the bill.

“Speaker Cupp’s quick response, along with that of Senate leaders, to the needs of Ohio’s business community are greatly appreciated, especially in these very challenging times for so many struggling business owners,” OSCPAs President & CEO Scott Wiley said today.

For more information, contact OSCPA’s government relations team.