Michigan House Passes Bills Shielding Employers from Virus Lawsuits

A divided Michigan House voted on Sept. 23 to shield health providers and businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits filed by patients, employees or customers, advancing bills that majority Republicans said would give businesses more comfort to reopen and block frivolous complaints.

Opponents have said the measures would make it too tough for negligence victims to sue. Many Democrats voted against the business-backed legislation, which was sent to the GOP-led Senate for debate.

It would protect employers from liability if a worker is exposed to the COVID-19 virus during Michigan’s emergency despite the employer having substantially complied with health rules, retroactive to Jan. 1. Immunity would not apply if an employer willfully disregarded the regulations.

“This is a balanced approach on COVID liability that will not in any way protect bad actors,” said a sponsor, Republican Rep. Thomas Albert of Lowell, who added that it would safeguard infected employees from retribution. “Job providers need to know what safety protocols are expected of them, and they deserve some reassurance that they will not be sued if they are taking necessary safety precautions.”

Other bills would:

Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said Michigan law already says people taking reasonable care to protect workers and customers cannot be held liable in court. Most businesses are “doing the right thing,” she said.

“Instead of passing this legislation, which is a solution in search of a problem, the Legislature should be focused on helping our businesses implement health and safety standards to keep their employees and customers safe,” Brown said.

While House Democrats generally opposed all but the bill related to worker protections, they did not speak out against the legislation before the vote. In testimony submitted this month, the Negligence Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan said some of the measures would make it “unreasonably difficult” for victims to sue and would lower the duty of employers and business owners to protect employees and customers from exposure to the virus.

Another bill sponsor, Republican Rep. Tommy Brann of Wyoming, owns several restaurants.

“Passage of this legislation is about survival of family business,” he said.