One of the major sticking points for COVID-19 relief packages passed by the U.S. Senate was whether or not they implemented protections for businesses designed to reduce litigation related to COVID-19. Generally, Democrats prefer to focus on individual protections (which means allowing litigation) and Republicans prefer to focus on business protections (which means reducing litigation). These considerations have yet to be resolved, but some state governments are taking the fight to their own legislative bodies.
For example, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed into law “Act Number 2021-4” in order to address litigation concerns on February 12, 2021.
There were actually three separate bills aimed at limited economic impacts, most of which protected businesses. The new laws aim to provide protections to businesses, schools, healthcare providers, governments, and those who work at these institutions. The recently passed laws purport to “[provide] a safe harbor to businesses that operate reasonably consistent with applicable public health guidance” to reduce “social harms of a closed economy and the resulting unemployment.”
Alabama was not the first to enact such legislation, though. Other states with primarily conservative legislatures enacted similar laws. These include: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Utah.
The laws seek to limit, but not eliminate, consumer access to claims made against businesses. Those wishing to file a personal injury lawsuit because of COVID-19 should not be dissuaded from consulting with a lawyer. The “good faith” laws do more to limit frivolous or overreaching lawsuits. Employers who completely subvert legally mandated practices are still liable in civil court.
The laws provide the basis under which a plaintiff must prove beyond reasonable doubt that a business entity helped spread COVID due to intentional acts or wanton disregard for safety procedures under local and state laws. Many governments have also placed damage limitations on these types of lawsuits.