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Tennessee Governor Signs Covid-19 Business Liability Shield

Aug. 17, 2020, 9:31 PM

Tennessee joined at least 10 other states in broadly limiting liability lawsuits related to Covid-19 exposure, under legislation Gov. Bill Lee signed into law.

The new law sets up legal hurdles for anyone filing a lawsuit over exposure to the virus, broadly protecting businesses, health-care providers, nonprofits, and others including schools and churches. For a lawsuit to avoid dismissal, the plaintiff must show the defendant’s actions amounted to gross negligence or willful misconduct and provide a signed statement from a doctor attesting that they believe the plaintiff’s injury or sickness resulted from the defendant’s actions.

The Republican governor, in a livestreamed signing statement Monday, described the new law as “limited liability protection.” The state legislature passed the measure, HB 8001 / SB 8002, in a special session last week.

“Limited liability protection means that your hard-working small business can’t be targeted with illegitimate claims around Covid-19, and it also means we can confidently remain on track in getting our schools back open and our kids back in the classroom,” Lee said.

Liability protections have been a high priority since the start of the pandemic for business groups such as the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, which advocated for the measure.

Efforts by U.S. Senate GOP leadership, including Sen. Mitch McConnell (R), to pass nationwide liability limits have stalled alongside broader talks on another round of coronavirus-relief legislation. U.S. House Democratic leadership and worker advocates have opposed liability shields, arguing they will lead to less accountability for business owners who fail to take reasonable safety precautions to protect customers and workers.

In the meantime, state laws similar to the one Lee signed have been enacted in Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming. Additional states have enacted liability shields via executive order or narrower liability protections covering health-care providers and suppliers of personal protective equipment.

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

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

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