COVID-19 lawsuit immunity bill heads to Holcomb

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Legislation that aims to protect businesses from COVID-19-related lawsuits is heading to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk.

Senate Bill 1, authored by Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, gives businesses, not-for-profits, schools and religious institutions immunity from COVID-19 civil liability lawsuits.

The Indiana House passed the bill 72-21 last week after making a few changes to it, and the Indiana Senate on Thursday voted 39-7 to concur with that version of the bill. Only Democrats voted against it.

Holcomb included COVID-19 liability protections on his legislative agenda this year and he is expected to sign the bill.

The legislation shields businesses and individuals from being liable for injury or harm arising from COVID-19 unless there is gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct that could be proven with “clear and convincing evidence.”

It specifically protects individuals, associations, institutions, corporations, companies, trusts, limited liability companies, partnerships, political subdivisions, government entities, not-for-profits, and “any other organization or entity.”

It also shields businesses that produce pandemic-related materials, such as personal protective equipment and COVID-19 tests.

It does not affect worker’s compensation claims or medical malpractice claims.

The legislation is retroactive to March 1 and in effect through Dec. 31, 2024.

Business organizations made the legislation a top priority, citing concerns of potential lawsuits from individuals who could claim they caught COVID-19 while working for or patronizing that business. For example, someone who was at a restaurant could test positive for COVID-19 days later and try to sue that establishment to pay medical expenses. Or a plumber could be sued after making a house call if someone in that home later tested positive.

Companies say defending against such suits — even if they are baseless — would be a costly burden.

The Indiana AFL-CIO is opposed to the bill.

Several Democrats voiced concerns about nursing homes being given immunity under the legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor said he supports giving businesses and not-for-profits that acted responsibly immunity from such lawsuits, but he doesn’t believe long-term-care facilities should be included.

“Why do we have to go so far as the nursing facilities?” Taylor said. “What are we doing?”

Republicans argued that nursing homes would still be liable for not providing proper care in non-COVID-19-related situations.

“We are holding everyone to the same standard,” Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, said.

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