Missouri senators on Feb. 3 advanced a bill that would shield hospitals, manufacturers and other businesses from lawsuits over alleged wrongdoing during the coronavirus pandemic.
Senators gave the measure initial approval after hours of debate and negotiations.
The bill would prevent lawsuits against businesses unless someone can prove they were exposed there and sickened by the coronavirus and that the business was acting recklessly or committed willful misconduct.
Hospitals also would be shielded from lawsuits unless doctors commit “recklessness or willful misconduct,” which is a legal standard that’s more difficult to prove in court than the current liability standard they face.
The bill also would shield churches and other religious organizations from any lawsuits over exposure to COVID-19 unless the person who got sick can prove the organization committed intentional misconduct.
People hurt by defective masks or other virus-related products couldn’t sue unless they prove the manufacturer acted with recklessness or committed willful misconduct that injured them.
Lawsuits for potential COVID-19 exposure or poor products would have to be filed within two years after someone is injured.
Proponents said hospitals overrun with sick patients and manufacturers that stepped up to make masks shouldn’t be penalized for doing their best to help during a crisis.
“This bill ensures these businesses are protected, not punished, for their role in helping us weather this pandemic,” said bill sponsor Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, a Parkville Republican.
But bipartisan critics said the measure is aimed at helping big business owners and would hinder people’s access to the courts if they were hurt by poorly made masks or other pandemic-related issues.
“We’ve got to make sure that we not create any law that prohibits someone’s right to be heard in court,” said Republican Sen. Bill Eigel, of Weldon Spring.
The measure needs another vote of approval in the Senate to advance to the House.
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