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Covid-19 Liability Shield Heads to Georgia Governor’s Desk

June 29, 2020, 3:36 PM

Employers in Georgia would be shielded from lawsuits related to Covid-19 exposure under legislation headed to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.

If the Republican governor signs it into law, Georgia will join a handful of states in protecting businesses from civil liability related to the virus. Business groups across the country have called on Congress to include liability protections in future legislation to reduce the risk of litigation that they say threatens successful economic recovery, and the issue is one of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell‘s (R-Ky.) top demands.

At least five states have enacted similar liability shields: Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming. Many more states have provided liability protections specific to health-care providers.

Kemp’s office declined to comment specifically on S.B. 359 except to say it is subject to legal review like all legislation. The bill passed the Republican-majority legislature late Friday on largely party-line votes—104-56 in the House and 34-16 in the Senate—just before lawmakers adjourned their 2020 legislative session.

Exceptions for Egregious Cases

The Georgia bill would shield businesses, health-care providers, and other entities from liability related to Covid-19 infections or transmissions, except in cases where the entity is found to have committed “gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, reckless infliction of harm, or intentional infliction of harm.”

Kemp, who made Georgia one of the first states in the country to lift business shutdown orders, previously extended temporary liability protections via executive orders for health-care providers and other businesses that follow specific health and safety guidelines. But those protections are due to expire along with a state of emergency declaration Kemp issued in March. The emergency declaration will expire July 12, unless Kemp extends it.

State liability shields such as the Georgia bill would protect businesses from virus-related lawsuits brought by customers, members of the public, and employees. States generally preempt workplace injury lawsuits already and require that complaints be brought instead as worker’s compensation claims. Nevertheless, employees or their families can sometimes find a way to get their claims into court, as a number of families are trying to do with Covid-19 wrongful death lawsuits.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Marr in Atlanta at cmarr@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com; Karl Hardy at khardy@bloomberglaw.com

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