Ohio Businesses Now Have Protection from COVID-19 Lawsuits
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses have faced many uncertainties. A major source of that uncertainty has been the risk of potential litigation if an employee or customer claims they were exposed to or contracted COVID-19 as a result of the businesses’ action (or inaction).
Ohio businesses now have some protection from COVID-19 lawsuits. Governor DeWine signed HB 606 this week that provides civil immunity to individuals and certain entities from lawsuits that arise from injury, death, or loss to person or property caused by exposure, transmission, or contraction of COVID-19.
Covered persons and entities include healthcare providers, schools (including higher education), businesses (profit and nonprofit), government agencies, and religious organizations.
Health care providers are shielded from liability arising from the “provision, withholding, or withdrawal” of healthcare services provided in treating COVID-19. Similarly, all other businesses are granted immunity resulting from a lawsuit related to the “exposure to, or the transmission or contraction of” COVID-19.
The new law takes it even a step further and bans class actions in the event the blanket immunity does not apply.
In recognition of the challenges businesses face in complying with ever-changing and complex government orders and guidelines, the new law specifically states that a “government order, recommendation, or guideline” does not create a duty of care and therefore cannot serve as a basis for a lawsuit.
Despite these broad protections, the new law does not provide absolute immunity. Health care providers may be liable if it can be proven that they acted with reckless disregard; or engaged in intentional misconduct, or willful or wanton misconduct. Health care providers are also expressly protected from disciplinary action unless the health care provider’s actions constitute gross negligence. All other individuals and entities are immune from liability unless it can be established that their actions led to the exposure, transmission or contraction of COVID-19 resulted from conduct that was reckless, intentional; or willful or wanton.
The new law goes into effect 90 days from September 14th, but is retroactive from the date the state of emergency in Ohio was declared as a result of COVID-19 pursuant to Executive Order 2020-01D (on March 9, 2020).
While this new law will not prevent all lawsuits, it does provide broad protections that will go a long way in protecting businesses that make every effort to comply with state guidance and orders. Creating a safe environment for employees and customers is not only the right thing to do—it will go a long way in maintaining a healthy bottom line and preventing unnecessary and costly litigation.
At Graydon, we continue to stay up-to-date on all COVID-19 related issues so the Graydon COVID-19 Task Force can assist you in all you COVID-19 business needs.