Louisiana lawmakers want to give protections from most lawsuits for coronavirus deaths and injuries to businesses that never closed during the outbreak and those that are newly reopening.
The Republican-led bills by Sen. Sharon Hewitt of Slidell, Sen. Patrick McMath of Covington and Rep. Thomas Pressly of Shreveport have easily won support from both the House and Senate, with near unanimous backing, and will be headed to Gov. John Bel Edwards for a decision.
Supporters say liability limitations involving the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus will shield from frivolous lawsuits those businesses who kept providing — or started offering — needed services to the public despite the risks of the pandemic.
“We’re trying to protect our businesses and let them open,” Pressly said.
Pressly’s bill is the most sweeping. It would keep people from being able to sue businesses, government agencies, trade show organizers and event planners for civil damages for injuries or death from COVID-19 unless they can prove the high legal standard of “gross negligence or willful misconduct.”
“Even in the best of times, the cost of defending itself against even one bogus claim can be enough to put a small business out of business — and these aren’t the best of times,” Dawn Starns, Louisiana state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, which pushed the proposal.
The Senate voted 28-7 for the measure, requiring one final House vote and then it heads to the governor’s desk.
Hewitt’s legislation would offer the same shielding from lawsuits to people and businesses who donate recovery services or products — such as hand sanitizer and protective clothing — and those selling that type of disaster aid “outside of the typical course and scope of their operations.” The protections would extend during any declared state of emergency in Louisiana.
The House gave final passage to the measure in a 99-0 vote on May 29, sending it to Edwards.
McMath’s legislation would extend similar protections to restaurant owners and employees, though it would only apply to the coronavirus outbreak, not to future state emergencies or disasters.
That measure needs one last Senate approval and then heads to Edwards, after the House voted 94-0 for the bill Friday.
The Democratic governor hasn’t taken a position on the proposals, which would retroactively cover activities beginning March 11.
The bills sailed through the House and Senate with little debate Friday. During earlier Senate debates, a handful of opponents said the blanket immunity being granted could have unintended consequences of keeping people from being able to file legitimate lawsuits.
The House and Senate also have agreed to a separate McMath bill to shield government agencies from lawsuits from employees required to work during the coronavirus outbreak, if they follow the protective guidance issued by the state and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The bills are: House Bill 826 and Senate Bills 489, 491 and 508.
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