A bill to provide Covid liability protection for businesses, schools, healthcare workers, and others is advancing at the Arizona Legislature.
The Senate Judiciary Committee last week voted 5-3 to approve the legislation to offer a shield for responsible businesses and workers who have been on the front line of the virus.
“Since the first outbreak of COVID in Arizona in March 2020, we’ve seen businesses really step up to remain open, while taking numerous safety precautions. We’ve seen Arizona’s health care heroes on the front lines, battling the pandemic daily,” said the sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Vince Leach, R-SaddleBrooke. “Unfortunately, there will always be people who will try to take advantage of the situation and file reckless lawsuits. 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.”
Safe harbor from unwarranted litigation
The bill, Senate Bill 1377, would offer protection from reckless litigation for businesses and others who act in “good faith” to implement reasonable policies to protect their customers, clients and patients.
SB 1377 also offers protection for injuries that result from indirect causes, such as a patient who was unable to get admitted to a hospital when healthcare facilities were barred from performing non-elective surgeries during the public health emergency.
Under the legislation, plaintiffs would have to prove “clear and convincing evidence that a person or provider failed to act or acted with wilful misconduct or gross negligence” in order to win a civil suit.
Thousands of employers support liability protection
The bill has seen a groundswell of support from employers and advocacy groups statewide. At the hearing last week, representatives from a variety of sectors including healthcare, education and industry urged lawmakers to pass the bill.
“Senate Bill 1377 provides targeted and reasonable liability protection for responsible actors working under extraordinary circumstances,” said Courtney Coolidge, vice president for government affairs at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
“This is not blanket immunity,” Coolidge said. “It provides reasonable recourse for truly bad actors.”
Steve Barclay, an attorney and lobbyist who spoke on behalf of the Arizona Medical Association, said frontline workers deserve protection and from being “second guessed” in the future.
“Our physicians, our nurses, our health professionals have served so admirably, tirelessly, and at personal sacrifice to treat thousands and thousands of patients across this state for a never-before-seen virus,” Barclay said. “Our heroes deserve some added protection from being second-guessed later and subjected to unmeritorious lawsuits for alleged errors in the care that they provided under adverse conditions to the best of their ability. That’s what this bill intends to do.”
Chad Heinrich, Arizona state director for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), said small businesses are more at risk of financial ruin if faced with nuisance lawsuits.
“Our members in Arizona have made it clear that this is the top priority for them this session,” he said.
Meanwhile, Barry Aarons, a lobbyist for the Arizona Trial Attorneys Association voiced opposition to the bill, saying it places the standard for proof so high that legitimate medical malpractice claims will be almost impossible to litigate.
Responsible operators deserve protection
Most businesses and organizations have proven that they can act responsibly, proponents of the measure said. They have shifted their business models, put up plexiglass shields, personal protection equipment for employees, and followed guidelines for sanitizing and social distancing from the Centers for Disease Control.
Leach and other state lawmakers began working on a liability bill last year when the U.S. Congress failed to adopt protective legislation through the CARES Act or subsequent legislation.
Since then, Leach and other legislators have heard from hundreds of constituents calling for a state-sponsored protection bill. Stakeholders like the Arizona Chamber, the Greater Phoenix Chamber and the NFIB worked with industry groups and provided input to help put together a bill that was simple and straightforward.
Half of states now have Covid liability laws
At least 25 states have passed similar Covid liability protection laws, Coolidge said. Like Arizona, several others are currently considering legislation.
Passage of the bill would provide some reassurance to employers that they will not be hit with nuisance lawsuits, which could derail an economic recovery, she said.
Coolidge said the millions of dollars in advertising by trial lawyers already on Covid exposure is “a clear indication of what’s to come” in terms of the number of forthcoming lawsuits.
To read the bill’s full text, go to: Covid-19 liability protection.
Organizations supporting the bill
21st Century Healthcare
Alliance of Arizona Nonprofits
American Academy of Pediatrics – AZ Chapter
American Heart Association
American Property Casualty Insurance Association
Americans for Prosperity
Amigos Trade Association
Apache Junction Chamber of Commerce
Arizona Academy of Family Physicians
Arizona Alliance of Boys and Girls Clubs
Arizona Assisted Leving Homes Association
Arizona Association of Community Managers
Arizona Association of Health Plans
Arizona Association of Providers for People with Disabilities
Arizona Automobile Dealers Association
Arizona Automotive Wholesalers Association
Arizona Bankers Association
Arizona Board of Regents
Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry
Arizona Chapter National Safety Council
Arizona Charter Schools Association
Arizona Council of Human Services Providers
Arizona Dental Association
Arizona Farm Bureau Federation
Arizona Foot and Ankel Medical Association
Arizona Health Care Association
Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association
Arizona Leading Age
Arizona Licensed Beverage Association
Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association
Arizona Manufacturers Council
Arizona Medical Association
Arizona Mining Association
Arizona Multihousing Association
Arizona Nurses Association
Arizona Optometric Association
Arizona Osteopathic Medical Association
Arizona Petorleum Marketers Association
Arizona Pharmacy Association
Arizona Restaurant Association
Arizona Retailers Association
Arizona Rock Products Association
Arizona School Risk Retention Trust, Inc.
Arizona Small Business Association
Arizona Soccer Association
Arizona State Association of Physicians Assisitants
Arizona State University
Arizona Technology Council
Arizona Trucking Association
Associated General Contractors of America Arizona Chapter
Buckeye Chamber of Commerce
Building Owners and Managers Association of Greater Phoenix (BOMA)
Carefree Cave Creek Chamber of Commerce
Chandler Chamber of Commerce
City of Surprise
City of Yuma
County Supervisors Association of Arizona
East Valley Chambers of Commerce Alliance
Education Finance Reform Group
Fountain Hills Chamber of Commerce
Fresenius Medical Care North America
Gilbert Chamber of Commerce
Glendale Chamber of Commerce
Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce
Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce
Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce
Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce
Greater Phoenix Economic Council
Greater Phoenix Leadership
Green Valley Sahuarita Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center
Health System Alliance of Arizona
Home Builders Association of Central Arizona
Lake Havasu Area Chamber of Commerce
League of Arizona Cities and Towns
Marana Chamber of Commerce
Mesa Chamber of Commerce
Mutual Insurance Company of Arizona (MICA)
National Association of Industrial Office Properties (NAIOP) Arizona Chapter
National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB)
Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company
Northern Arizona University
Page Lake Powell Chamber of Commerce
Peoria Chamber of Commerce
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)
Prescott Valley Chamber of Commerce
Queen Creek Chamber of Commerce
Republic National Distributing Company of Arizona
Republican Liberty Caucus of Arizona
Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce
Southern Arizona Home Builders Association
Southern Arizona Leadership Council
Southwest Valley Chamber of Commerce
Southwest Veteran’s Chamber of Commerce
State Farm Insurance Companies
Surprise Regional Chamber of Commerce
Tempe Chamber of Commerce
Town of Queen Creek
Tucson Metro Chamber
United Dairymen of Arizona
United Servcies Automobile Association (USAA)
University of Arizona
West Valley Chambers of Commerce Alliance
Western Plant Health Association
Wickenburg Chamber of Commerce
Wine Spirits Wholesales Association of Arizona
Yavapai County Contractors Association