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Senate bill would shield businesses, other entities from coronavirus lawsuits


The Alabama Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee on Monday gave a favorable report to a bill that would make it harder for persons to sue others for their coronavirus infection.

SB351 is sponsored by Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee Chairman Arthur Orr, R-Decatur.

This bill would provide civil immunity for business entities, health care providers, educational entities, churches, governmental entities and cultural institutions operating in Alabama as well as individuals associated with these entities, from certain damages claimed by individuals who allege that they contracted or were exposed to Coronavirus, during a declared state of emergency.

This bill would also provide immunity for certain health care providers during the performance or provision of health care services or treatment that resulted from, was negatively affected by, or was done in support of or in response to the Coronavirus pandemic or the state’s response to the pandemic.

Orr told the Committee that people could still sue; but that the plaintiffs would have to prove that his or her infection was due to willful, wanton, reckless, or intent on the part of the defendant.

Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) objected and said that the burden should be on the employer to prove the company took proper precautions.

Orr said that the company could still be fined culpable if they acted negligently and did not perform the proper procedures, such as cleaning and disinfecting, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

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As the economy reopens, people will go back to work, church, school, community activities. This will expose them to the coronavirus. According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 has a fatality rate of two percent; thus a business could potentially be facing wrongful death lawsuits if employees or customers contract the coronavirus and blame the business.

“Imagine the number of lawsuits that could be brought,” Orr said.

The committee voted to give SB351 a favorable report on a ten to two vote. The bill can now move to the full Senate for their consideration.

The 2020 Alabama legislative session was interrupted by the coronavirus global pandemic. Both House of the Legislature have met only once since March 12, due to fears of the coronavirus. The legislature is meeting this week to pass state budgets, address coronavirus crisis issues, and members’ local bills. The Alabama House of Representatives is expected to vote on the state general fund (SGF) budget today.

Since March 20, 8,112 Alabamians have been diagnosed with COVID-19. 224 were diagnosed on Monday alone. 298 Alabamians have already died from the Wuhan coronavirus.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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