Louisiana businesses are receiving state protection from most lawsuits involving COVID-19 deaths or injuries, after Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law a package of measures that provides the sweeping liability limitations.
Three Republican-sponsored bills offering the lawsuit shields won support from lawmakers in the regular session that ended June 1.
The Democratic governor announced he’d signed the measures among a long list of bill signings released on June 15 and 16. Edwards didn’t comment on the bills, which took effect immediately and are retroactive to March 11.
Supporters said the measures will protect businesses who kept providing — or started offering — needed services to the public despite the risks of the coronavirus pandemic from frivolous lawsuits.
“This legislation provides much needed peace of mind,” the Louisiana chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business posted on Twitter about one of the measures, sponsored by Republican Rep. Thomas Pressly of Shreveport.
Under Pressly’s bill, people will be unable 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.”
A second measure by GOP Sen. Sharon Hewitt, of Slidell, offers the same lawsuit protection 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.”
Hewitt’s protections don’t just last through the coronavirus pandemic. They’ll continue during any declared state of emergency in Louisiana.
A third bill by Republican Sen. Patrick McMath, of Covington, gives the same limitation of liability to restaurant owners and employees for the coronavirus outbreak, as long as they are deemed “in substantial compliance” with state, federal and local regulations about the virus. It doesn’t apply to future state emergencies or disasters.
The new laws received little opposition as they moved through the majority-Republican House and Senate. A handful of opponents in the Senate said they worried the blanket immunity being granted could have unintended consequences of keeping people from being able to file legitimate lawsuits.
The bills are: House Bill 826 and Senate Bills 491 and 508.
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