Pandemic Liability Bill Moves To Rules Committee

A state senate committee will discuss a bill Monday that protects individuals, businesses, schools, medical providers, and the government from civil liability for actions taken in response to public health pandemics unless a litigant can prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that willful misconduct or gross negligence was involved.

The bill, SB1377, sponsored by Sen. Vince Leach (R-LD11) would be retroactive to March 11, 2020, the date Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19. Its passage out of the Senate Rules Committee is seen as a sure thing after the Senate Committee on Judiciary passed it last week on a 5 to 3 vote.

Leach has said he introduced the bill to ensure a presumption that any person or “provider” acted in good faith to protect a customer, student, tenant, volunteer, patient, guest or neighbor, or the public from injury or loss through reasonable attempts to comply with rely on published guidance issued by a federal or state agency in connection to a public health pandemic.

“Unfortunately, there will always be people who will try to take advantage of the situation and file reckless lawsuits,” Leach said after the judiciary committee vote. “I hope this legislation will give people the assurance that if they’re following health and safety precautions, they won’t be hit with a nuisance lawsuit.”

Under the legislation, a provider is defined as a person who furnishes consumer or business goods or services or entertainment, as well as an educational institution or district, school district or charter school, property owner, property manager or property lessor or lessee, a nonprofit organization, a religious institution, a state or a state agency or instrumentality, a local government or political subdivision (including a department, agency or commission), a service provider, a health professional, or a health care institution.

Anyone wishing to claim an “injury, death or loss to person or property” based on a failure to protect the litigant from the effects of the public health pandemic must be able to show the person or provider acted with “willful misconduct or gross negligence.” The liability protection also includes inactions which are alleged to have caused harm.