Congress Asked to Shield Volunteer Contractors from Liability

September 21, 2005

The U.S. House of Representatives is weighing legislation to protect contractors who respond to declared federal, state and local emergencies or disasters from lawsuits arising out of their volunteer efforts.

The provision was applauded by the Associated General Contractors of America.

“The Good Samaritan legislation is designed to provide contractors, such as those responding to Hurricane Katrina, with qualified immunity from liability when providing services in volunteer situations that arise from a disaster or emergency,” said AGC CEO Stephen E. Sandherr. “When construction expertise is needed, there should not be anything to make the construction industry hesitant in responding to help and possibly save lives and property.”

The measure was introduced by Representatives Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), Gary Miller (R-Calif.), Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah).

In the event of a disaster, construction contractors are called upon to help with search, recovery and cleanup efforts. In New York City after 9/11 contractors brought equipment, knowledge and expertise to remediate the damage done by terrorists, but they did so without the protection of a state Good Samaritan statute. Many states with Good Samaritan statutes do not include contractors within the protections of those statutes. The new House legislation will provide a uniform federal basis for measured protections for contractors throughout U.S.

The bill would provide construction entities with immunity from liability for negligence when providing services or equipment on a volunteer basis in response to a declared emergency or disaster. It would not cover gross negligence or willful misconduct. Also, those protected under the bill would be providing such assistance at the direction of a public official acting in an official capacity.

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