Tennessee Gov Signs COVID-19 Business, School, Nursing Home Liability Law

August 20, 2020

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has signed into law sweeping protections for businesses, schools and nursing homes against coronavirus lawsuits.

Lee on Monday touted the legislation as “historic” and argued the law would protect businesses from “frivolous lawsuits.”

The GOP-dominated Statehouse failed to advance the proposal earlier this year when negotiations among lawmakers broke down in the hectic waning hours of legislative work.

Lee later convened a special legislative session to not only address COVID-19 liability, but also telemedicine and penalties against protesters who violate certain laws.

Under Lee’s leadership, Tennessee was one of the first states to begin reopening in late April after the Republican reluctantly issued a safer-at-home order that forced businesses to close.

Lee has since maintained he will not shut down the economy and has resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate.

Tennessee lawmakers’ main dividing line over the liability bill was whether to make its protections retroactive to early March, which the Senate supported and the House opposed.

The bill that ultimately passed is now retroactive to Aug. 3. Some lawmakers expressed concern that bill may be illegal because Tennessee’s Constitution states “no retrospective law, or law impairing the obligations of contracts, shall be made.”

“I readily admit this is a question that the courts will have to answer,” Republican Sen. Mike Bell said last week. He added he felt confident a court would side with the Legislature because the proposal would be in the public’s interest.

Existing lawsuits surrounding poor COVID-19 safeguards will be grandfathered into state code as long as the complaints had been filed before early August.

Kimberlee Kruesi and Jonathan Mattise contributed to this report.

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