As reported by InsiderAdvantage back in May, the liability implications of reopening during COVID-19 recovery are a concern for businesses across the state.
On Tuesday, the state Senate took a step to alleviate these concerns and help find a way to continue to open up the economy. Despite the state being officially “open,” businesses remain concerned for a variety of COVID-19-related reasons – will there be enough customers to make it worth opening? What happens if an employee contracts the virus? What happens if a customer contracts the virus?
Tuesday’s bill was a first step that some see as required during the recovery. Both business and health care provided would be shielded from lawsuits if COVID-19 happened in their facilities, unless the contraction was – according to the bill – “caused by an act or omission constituting gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct or intentional infliction of harm.”
“Georgia may be open for business, but we’re looking at a long recovery. House Bill 167 will protect fragile businesses from frivolous lawsuits that try to exploit the pandemic for financial gain,” said NFIB Georgia Director Nathan Humphrey. “To ensure economic recovery, businesses need the assurance that when giving their best efforts to protect employees and the general public, that they in turn will be protected from frivolous lawsuits.”
Opponents of the bill argue that it will create a more dangerous workplace during COVID-19. The Georgia chapter of the AFL-CIO issued a statement saying the bill “will create further disincentives for even law-abiding employers to protect their workers—producing a race-to-the-bottom for workplace standards—and cause a health and safety disaster, with new hot spots across sectors and spread across communities.”
Questions were raised about what constitutes a “health care provider” given protection under the bill and whether this would include nursing homes, who have been at the center of some of the viral outbreaks and some who have made news for poor practices that led to a wider outbreak.
Considering the magnitude of the implications of the bill – COVID-19 and the economy, this one is likely to be met with much discussion in the House and may see some significant changes before making its way back out. But considering Friday is the scheduled Sine Die, House members better get busy.
NFIB Georgia seems optimistic that bill will be passed in the House chamber and that it will protect businesses they see as open to unjust lawsuits.
“Our members are hopeful the House will approve H.B. 167 so Governor Kemp can sign it into law as soon as possible,” said Humphrey. “Without this legislation, the cost of defending itself against just one unjust claim could be enough to force a small business to close its doors for good.”