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: 1007681

Reported Deaths: 16470
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1355212121
Lake664101166
Allen57993801
Hamilton46350465
St. Joseph44397615
Elkhart35949510
Vanderburgh32251480
Tippecanoe27933260
Johnson25107445
Hendricks23897359
Porter22929365
Madison18748409
Clark18557252
Vigo17479303
Monroe15263200
LaPorte15173250
Delaware15073263
Howard14748290
Kosciusko12348148
Hancock11728176
Bartholomew11639180
Warrick11292189
Floyd11108215
Wayne10986253
Grant10082220
Morgan9472176
Boone8926115
Dubois8271131
Henry8229152
Dearborn822393
Noble8031106
Marshall7939135
Cass7546121
Lawrence7457171
Shelby7189119
Jackson698289
Gibson6597115
Harrison649192
Knox6421106
Huntington6395100
DeKalb632399
Montgomery6264111
Miami593398
Putnam581278
Clinton576171
Whitley565755
Steuben562576
Wabash5332104
Jasper532079
Jefferson511297
Ripley500586
Adams482576
Daviess4677114
Scott438974
Greene425196
Wells424888
Clay423360
White418764
Decatur4169102
Fayette406587
Jennings387361
Posey376644
Washington359151
LaGrange359078
Randolph3452100
Spencer340243
Fountain335760
Sullivan329452
Starke317171
Owen314771
Fulton312667
Orange293664
Jay284645
Franklin265643
Perry265452
Rush262432
Carroll261934
Vermillion258654
Parke231426
Pike229243
Tipton228159
Blackford193142
Pulaski183757
Crawford159823
Newton158348
Benton150617
Brown146747
Martin138719
Switzerland135011
Warren121116
Union107016
Ohio84613
Unassigned0540

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1519304

Reported Deaths: 23955
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1642651696
Cuyahoga1464072459
Hamilton1053661431
Montgomery740661279
Summit617841111
Lucas56338917
Butler51580718
Stark466811064
Lorain35628585
Warren32836377
Mahoning30787693
Clermont28193330
Lake27063448
Delaware24208164
Licking23939294
Trumbull22885561
Fairfield22395247
Greene22350326
Medina22047313
Clark19863354
Richland18586292
Portage17978252
Wood17454224
Allen16001279
Miami15582306
Muskingum14831185
Columbiana14080274
Wayne13791271
Tuscarawas12724311
Marion11976180
Scioto11469162
Pickaway11373142
Erie10904184
Ross10586203
Lawrence9759153
Ashtabula9741204
Hancock9707155
Belmont9309209
Geauga8965157
Jefferson8567199
Huron8404143
Union819859
Washington8093144
Sandusky7827151
Athens777779
Knox7739144
Darke7689158
Seneca7372145
Ashland6967130
Auglaize679799
Shelby6530115
Brown636491
Crawford6274130
Defiance6218105
Mercer616493
Fulton602896
Highland600499
Madison594578
Guernsey593071
Logan591096
Clinton583793
Preble5720125
Putnam5335110
Williams529288
Perry518363
Champaign513173
Jackson510273
Ottawa488586
Coshocton484683
Morrow458858
Pike434367
Fayette429263
Hardin419480
Gallia418467
Adams417195
Van Wert372382
Henry365372
Holmes3642125
Hocking356782
Wyandot324662
Carroll302365
Paulding280347
Meigs265851
Monroe216254
Noble200347
Morgan194033
Harrison182146
Vinton166625
Unassigned05
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Showers on tap for Sunday with the chance of a few thunderstorms.
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