By Rob Gilmore & Alexis Preskar
The Ohio Legislature has passed substantial protection for businesses from COVID-19 claimed damages. H.B. 606, which has gone to Gov. Mike DeWine for signature, eliminates civil lawsuits for “damages for injury, death, or loss to person or property” caused by the exposure or transmission of coronavirus, unless the transmission was caused by reckless or intentional conduct. This means, for example, a restaurant cannot be sued civilly for claims that a customer contracted COVID-19 from visiting the business, unless the restaurant acted recklessly or intentionally to cause the transmission of the disease.
Here’s a breakdown of the bill:
Who is Protected?
The bill is broadened from the prior version we reported on in this post – as it expands protection to any person, not just health care providers. Person includes:
- For-profit or nonprofit entities
- Government entities
- Religious entities
- A state institution of higher education
When Does the Immunity NOT Apply?
When a person acts recklessly – aka, when they disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the person’s conduct is likely to cause an exposure to, or a transmission or contraction of COVID-19. So businesses should take all normal precautions to limit the risk of spreading COVID-19, such as cleaning, requiring masks and not allowing ill employees to work.
Despite this, the bill specifies that government orders, recommendations and guidelines do not create a new duty upon any person, and there is a presumption that any orders or recommendations are not admissible as evidence of a duty of care. This means a plaintiff will not be able to point to a person’s failure to abide by a government order as evidence of recklessness.
However, businesses and individuals should be mindful that simply because they may not be held legally liable in a lawsuit, there is still a strong incentive to take stringent COVID-19 precautions to avoid negative publicity from customers, partners and employees.
When Does the Bill Take Effect?
The bill is not an effective law until Gov. DeWine signs it. While he has indicated he supports the theory of this bill, he has not definitively said he will sign it.
If DeWine signs the bill, it would apply to actions which arise from March 9, 2020 to Sept. 30, 2021.
Check back for further updates on COVID-19 legislation and liability protections. For more information on how businesses can safely re-open and comply with relevant local, state and federal guidelines, please contact Rob Gilmore (firstname.lastname@example.org / 216-736-7240) or Alexis Preskar (email@example.com / 614-427-5748) or any of KJK’s Labor & Employment professionals.