On September 14, 2020 Governor DeWine signed House Bill 606 (the “Legislation”) into law giving many businesses protection from lawsuits due to COVID-19 and other infections. Specifically, the Legislation provides that no person is liable for a civil action for damages, injury, or death due to COVID-19 or similar illnesses unless the person engages in reckless conduct, intentional misconduct, or willful or wanton misconduct. These immunity provisions will become retroactive to March 9, 2020 and remain in effect until September 30, 2021.
The definitions in the Legislation make it clear that the term “person” protects not only individuals but also schools, religious entities, governmental entities, for-profit or non-profit entities. Additionally, the Legislation goes on to provide that even if any such “person” does act intentionally or recklessly, plaintiffs are precluded from bringing a class action claim for such conduct. An earlier version of the Legislation in the Ohio House of Representatives specifically provided that businesses could not be liable for COVID-19 workers compensation claims but that language was taken out of the final law.
In addition to those broad protections for all businesses, the Legislation provides immunity to health care workers who are treating patients within their skillset unless they act recklessly or intentionally. These health care workers are also protected from professional disciplinary actions unless they are grossly negligent.
An interesting aspect of the Legislation includes findings by the General Assembly justifying its enactment. These findings pertain to the number of lawsuits across the country related to COVID-19, that recommendations for businesses as to how to avoid infections frequently change (such as those pertaining to wearing masks) and that business owners typically are not responsible for protecting members of the public from viruses and germs. The Legislation also makes it clear that any government orders issued during the pandemic do not create a duty of care for businesses.
The Coolidge Wall COVID-19 Taskforce is monitoring a number of other bills that are pending in Ohio and elsewhere that may provide additional protections to employers during the pandemic. Should you have any questions about the status of these laws, you should consult your professional advisors.