Indiana lawmakers acting quickly on COVID-19 lawsuit shield to protect businesses

Republicans who dominate the Indiana House and Senate have already approved similar versions of the liability protections and a final bill could reach Holcomb’s desk within the next couple weeks and months before final action is taken on most of this year’s legislation.

Posted: Feb 6, 2021 6:03 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana legislators are poised to finalize a fast-tracked proposal that will give a broad shield protecting businesses and others from lawsuits by people blaming them for contracting COVID-19.

The proposal is a top priority of Republican legislative leaders and GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb even though supporters don’t point to any such lawsuits in the state.

Supporters maintain that the liability protection is needed to remove a “cloud of uncertainty” for factories, restaurants, stores and other institutions like universities so that they can stay open without facing lawsuits from employees or customers over possible coronavirus exposure.

Republicans who dominate the Indiana House and Senate have already approved similar versions of the liability protections and a final bill could reach Holcomb’s desk within the next couple weeks and months before final action is taken on most of this year’s legislation.

The proposal would be retroactive to March 1, 2020 — just before the first coronavirus infection was confirmed in Indiana — and only allow lawsuits against businesses when “gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct” can be proved with “clear and convincing evidence.”

Republicans call the protections a key step toward economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, which shut down some businesses for months and the state health department says has killed nearly 12,000 people in the state.

“It’s critical for supporting jobs and bringing back our economy throughout the state,” Republican House Speaker Todd Huston said.

Congressional Republicans have pushed for a national legal shield, but it has stalled amid opposition from Democrats.

Businesses across the country have raised lawsuit fears, with similar protections approved last year in some states, such as Georgia, Iowa and Tennessee, while lawmakers in Alabama, Montana, North Dakota and other states are working to adopt them this year.

Warren Mathies, a lobbyist for the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association, urged lawmakers this past week to make sure the liability protections didn’t apply to medical errors that weren’t related to COVID-19 and to recognize how difficult it would be for someone to ever prove they contracted the coronavirus at a specific business or workplace.

“You have to show a direct causal link to the exposure and that’s an impossibility,” Mathies said. “So that’s why our members are OK with clarifying that if you go to a restaurant you shouldn’t sue for COVID.”

Major business organizations, including the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the state manufacturers and restaurant associations, support the proposal.

Opposition has come from those worried nursing homes could escape responsibility for patient deaths stemming from neglect or other misconduct.

Questions about whether to shield nursing homes and other medical providers from lawsuits will be addressed in a separate bill that will go before legislators later during this year’s session, said Senate Majority Leader Mark Messmer, a Republican from Jasper.

Most Democratic legislators have so far voted against the shield proposals.

Democratic Rep. Ryan Hatfield of Evansville said he supported the concept of broad legal protections, especially for small businesses, because of the difficult decisions they have faced during the pandemic.

But he said the current protections are too broad.

“I believe that there will be Hoosiers harmed by this legislation that were harmed in a way that has nothing to do with COVID-19,” Hatfield said.

Messmer, the proposal’s lead sponsor, said businesses still needed to follow safety protocols to protect their employees and customers.

“We are in a litigious society, whether you think we are or not,” Messmer said. “And just because there are no lawsuits filed to date doesn’t mean that there won’t be lawsuits just around the corner.”

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 730969

Reported Deaths: 13434
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1000031743
Lake53771970
Allen40668678
St. Joseph35733552
Hamilton35629408
Elkhart28577442
Tippecanoe22402219
Vanderburgh22310397
Porter18776308
Johnson17970379
Hendricks17244315
Clark12985191
Madison12673339
Vigo12449247
LaPorte11928211
Monroe11893170
Delaware10696186
Howard9924216
Kosciusko9410117
Hancock8284141
Bartholomew8070156
Warrick7784155
Floyd7669178
Grant7060174
Wayne7051199
Boone6700101
Morgan6576139
Dubois6156117
Marshall6050111
Dearborn581378
Cass5808105
Henry5720103
Noble561384
Jackson501773
Shelby491996
Lawrence4546120
Harrison435872
Gibson435492
DeKalb428485
Clinton427453
Montgomery424189
Whitley396139
Huntington391980
Steuben387857
Miami381866
Knox371990
Jasper366047
Putnam360760
Wabash354179
Adams341354
Ripley339770
Jefferson330981
White314354
Daviess297399
Wells291581
Decatur285492
Fayette280762
Greene278985
Posey271533
LaGrange266770
Scott266354
Clay260247
Randolph240781
Washington240732
Spencer232131
Jennings230149
Starke216654
Fountain212346
Sullivan211942
Owen200256
Fulton195440
Jay195130
Carroll189320
Orange183654
Perry183037
Rush173425
Vermillion169143
Franklin168135
Tipton162845
Parke146316
Blackford134932
Pike134334
Pulaski116845
Newton107834
Brown102141
Crawford99814
Benton98614
Martin89115
Warren82115
Switzerland7918
Union71010
Ohio56811
Unassigned0416

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1085733

Reported Deaths: 19441
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1261201400
Cuyahoga1124072120
Hamilton801491206
Montgomery515591014
Summit47292946
Lucas42275788
Butler38396584
Stark32412907
Lorain25046481
Warren24313300
Mahoning21629588
Lake20725369
Clermont19803238
Delaware18537133
Licking16436212
Fairfield16230200
Trumbull16082468
Medina15309264
Greene15099244
Clark14017299
Wood13113189
Portage12890203
Allen11675232
Richland11382199
Miami10686217
Wayne8843211
Columbiana8816229
Muskingum8815133
Pickaway8582121
Marion8539135
Tuscarawas8487244
Erie7917154
Hancock6929127
Ross6858155
Ashtabula6830170
Geauga6697148
Scioto6417101
Belmont5920167
Union571048
Lawrence5560102
Jefferson5544151
Huron5439119
Darke5364123
Sandusky5359121
Seneca5290121
Athens520058
Washington5160109
Auglaize491984
Mercer480885
Shelby470093
Knox4495110
Madison436661
Putnam4287100
Fulton423969
Ashland423189
Defiance421097
Crawford3978107
Brown395057
Logan382376
Preble379898
Clinton372963
Ottawa367479
Highland355662
Williams340275
Champaign333458
Guernsey316253
Jackson312652
Perry295350
Morrow285639
Fayette282250
Hardin271464
Henry269366
Coshocton265357
Holmes2611101
Van Wert243763
Adams238552
Pike237734
Gallia235949
Wyandot231555
Hocking215462
Carroll191647
Paulding173340
Meigs144940
Noble133337
Monroe132342
Harrison108537
Morgan108523
Vinton83515
Unassigned02
Fort Wayne
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Angola
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Hi: 61° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 36°
Huntington
Partly Cloudy
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Hi: 61° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 35°
Decatur
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Van Wert
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Frost is likely Tuesday night as lows fall into the low to mid 30s.
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