An Ohio House Bill that would provide immunity from novel coronavirus-related civil lawsuits for businesses and health care providers has now had four hearings in just over a week in the House Civil Justice Committee.
The legislation (HB 606) dubbed the “Good Samaritan Expansion Bill” was introduced by Rep. Diane Grendell, R-Chester Township, in early May.
If enacted, the bill would provide immunity to businesses, health care workers and employees from civil lawsuits from alleged transmission of the coronavirus, “barring willful or wanton misconduct.”
“We all know this pandemic has changed the world,” Grendell said. “Our medical professionals are combating a known killer under unimaginable circumstances. While all are skilled, many have been asked to take on challenges they’ve never seen before. As a former registered nurse, my heart and gratitude go out to them. To apply the same standard to them now as under normal conditions, is unconscionable. They need our support and protection, and I intend to give it to them.”
Organizations that have testified in favor of the bill at the committee hearings include the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants, the Ohio Hospital Association, Ohio Restaurant Association, and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, among others.
Ohio Chamber of Commerce Director of Labor and Legal Affairs Kevin Shimp said “all businesses need legal protections from coronavirus lawsuits in order to help Ohio’s economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic.” His organization represents more than 8,000 companies that do business in Ohio.
Shimp said in his testimony that economic uncertainty is the number one issue for Ohio business owners.
“Mitigating an employer’s risk will aid Ohio’s economic comeback by removing an obstacle to re-opening and an incentive for businesses to remain closed,” he said.
The Ohio Hospital Association represents 236 hospitals and 14 health systems across the state.
“Ohioans cannot afford to have their health care providers inhibited from necessary action due to fear of litigation or liability,” the organization stated in proponent testimony. “We need our health care providers to provide necessary care without fear that their actions will result in liability.”
Testimony has largely been in favor of the bill, but among those who oppose the legislation is AARP Ohio.
“We oppose HB 606 because we believe that individuals, including those who have been injured or neglected in nursing homes and other facilities, must be able to protect their rights in courts. Broad waivers of liability such as those proposed in HB 606 create barriers to obtain redress when individuals are harmed or injured,” said Holly Holtzen of AARP Ohio.
President of the Ohio Association for Justice expressed concern that legal immunity “removes accountability for unsafe actors, encourages unsafe behavior and places those acting safely at a disadvantage.”
“Accountability to the public leads to safe behaviors,” he said.
Grendell said it was “ridiculous to suggest the bill will encourage businesses to act more recklessly.”
“If they do they will be held accountable,” she said. “However, it does make it more difficult for lawyers to get an easy paycheck. It means they have to present a little more evidence than they currently use.
“It doesn’t mean customers are no longer protected, it means lawyers have to actually prove customers were recklessly endangered,” she added. “Business owners can’t stay in business if they purposely put their customers in harm’s way. But these are unprecedented times. They, and their customers, deserve a little peace of mind, too.”
The bill has not yet passed out of the Civil Justice Committee.