Indiana lawmakers to push coronavirus lawsuit shield for businesses

Lawmakers in at least 34 states have considered legislation related to legal liability, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.

Posted: Dec 19, 2020 6:33 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s governor and legislative leaders are lining up in favor of giving a legal shield to businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits when the General Assembly returns to action next month.

Supporters argue the liability protection is needed for factories, stores, restaurants and other institutions like universities so that they can stay open without facing claims that an employee or customer over coronavirus exposure — even though they haven’t been able to point to any such lawsuits in the state, The Journal Gazette reported.

“Are the odds that anyone would get sued super high? Probably not,” said state Sen. Mark Messmer, a Republican from Jasper. “But as long as people have a fear of a potential civil lawsuit it’s going to handcuff the state from ever moving back to some sort of normal.”

Messmer, who is preparing a liability shield bill, said lawsuits would still be allowed in cases of “willful misconduct” and “gross negligence.”

But Fred Schultz, a Bloomington attorney and president of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association, said granting immunity encourages businesses to behave badly and maintains the proposal “is a solution in search of a problem.”

“The person doesn’t even know they have acquired the virus for days so how on earth do we prove it? That’s why there are no cases,” Schultz said. “It’s a pretty big ask to say I got it at this hardware store not at this grocery store.”

The call for the liability protections comes as the state health department reports Indiana averaging more than 70 coronavirus deaths a day since early December and the state’s hospitals treating four times more COVID-19 patients than they did when a surge in cases began in September.

Congressional Republicans have been pushing for a national legal shield, but most Democrats have opposed it.

Lawmakers in at least 34 states have considered legislation related to legal liability, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.

Labor and civil rights groups oppose any shield, which they say strips essential workers of potential legal recourse as they take risks during the pandemic.

Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray of Martinsville said Indiana’s liability shield could clear the GOP-dominated Legislature in the opening weeks of the 2021 session.

“It’s an important way to help get our economy back and going, give people the confidence to get back out there both for businesses and even charitable organizations,” Bray said. “I think we’ll see that move through the Statehouse with some dispatch and quite a bit of success.”

Such quick legislative action is rare, as only one bill has advanced to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk during the first month of General Assembly’s session in his first four years as governor, according to his office’s online bill tracker.

Holcomb has endorsed the liability shield.

Kevin Brinegar, president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said no protections will be given if a business wasn’t following state and local regulations, such as requiring face masks and limiting occupancy.

“We can’t have employers, schools, health care facilities being sued and bombarded with lawsuits because someone was in their facility a week, two weeks ago, and has now contracted COVID and is claiming that they caught it at that facility,” Brinegar said.

House Democratic leader Phil GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne said any lawsuit protection should be “written tightly” so it only applies to COVID-19-related issues.

“Of course, we want to make sure that we are helping our small businesses and as well as holding those bad actors accountable,” GiaQuinta said.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 751242

Reported Deaths: 13795
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1032931788
Lake556911009
Allen41692692
St. Joseph36990565
Hamilton36588417
Elkhart29398461
Tippecanoe22901226
Vanderburgh22556400
Porter19356325
Johnson18471389
Hendricks17682317
Clark13226195
Madison13149344
Vigo12614253
LaPorte12419221
Monroe12207176
Delaware10966198
Howard10321225
Kosciusko9630121
Hancock8576146
Bartholomew8169157
Warrick7860156
Floyd7811180
Grant7242179
Wayne7162201
Boone6966103
Morgan6761141
Dubois6218118
Marshall6209116
Cass6016110
Henry5900110
Dearborn589878
Noble581488
Jackson509076
Shelby501496
Lawrence4742122
Gibson444894
Clinton442355
Harrison441875
DeKalb439885
Montgomery438090
Whitley406543
Huntington402681
Steuben400159
Miami395269
Jasper388054
Knox375991
Putnam372960
Wabash361983
Ripley347170
Adams345555
Jefferson335886
White331953
Daviess3033100
Wells295281
Decatur289992
Greene286885
Fayette284864
Posey273835
LaGrange273072
Scott270156
Clay267148
Washington246036
Randolph244783
Jennings235349
Spencer234531
Starke228058
Fountain220948
Sullivan214643
Owen211858
Fulton202942
Jay200932
Carroll193620
Orange188255
Perry187237
Rush175926
Vermillion174844
Franklin170335
Tipton166246
Parke149416
Pike138234
Blackford136232
Pulaski120647
Newton113936
Brown104243
Crawford102516
Benton101714
Martin91715
Warren84015
Switzerland8148
Union72810
Ohio57911
Unassigned0420

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1108902

Reported Deaths: 20166
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1287491467
Cuyahoga1158082211
Hamilton814091250
Montgomery525571043
Summit484351001
Lucas43359820
Butler39018606
Stark33338929
Lorain25675505
Warren24595303
Mahoning22376603
Lake21211388
Clermont20124253
Delaware18856136
Licking16663222
Fairfield16576204
Trumbull16551482
Medina15612271
Greene15284248
Clark14237306
Wood13292200
Portage13251215
Allen11914239
Richland11607211
Miami10849225
Wayne9146223
Columbiana9034230
Muskingum8906135
Pickaway8664122
Tuscarawas8650250
Marion8642138
Erie8056165
Ashtabula7161179
Hancock6999132
Ross6945161
Geauga6838151
Scioto6534106
Belmont6157174
Union584649
Lawrence5732102
Jefferson5679158
Huron5546122
Sandusky5442126
Darke5420129
Seneca5350128
Washington5320109
Athens523960
Auglaize502187
Mercer487385
Shelby476895
Knox4572112
Madison444366
Ashland435797
Putnam4336103
Defiance432399
Fulton432174
Crawford4040110
Brown402461
Logan387677
Preble3856105
Clinton379166
Ottawa373681
Highland359865
Williams348278
Champaign344859
Guernsey324953
Jackson318254
Perry297350
Morrow291840
Fayette285450
Hardin275365
Henry273467
Holmes2702101
Coshocton269060
Van Wert247264
Adams243256
Pike242835
Gallia240750
Wyandot234556
Hocking220563
Carroll197348
Paulding176542
Meigs148440
Monroe136344
Noble136239
Harrison114138
Morgan109624
Vinton85717
Unassigned03
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