More than a dozen states at the start of the 2021 legislative season are renewing a push to shield businesses from lawsuits over customers’ or employees’ COVID-19 exposure.
From Florida to Montana, state lawmakers have declared liability protections to be a top priority this year. Republican lawmakers are mostly leading the charge, but in a few cases they’re coordinating with Democratic legislators or governors.
If these states enact liability shields, they would join more than a dozen others that did so in 2020.
These state laws broadly shield all or most types of businesses from coronavirus-related liability lawsuits, unless a plaintiff can show the company was grossly negligent or guilty of intentional misconduct.
After a federal proposal championed by Senate Republicans failed to win approval, the attention is back on the states and expected to stay there, now that Democrats will control both chambers of Congress and the White House as of Jan. 20.
“We do not anticipate liability protection popping back up” at the federal level, said Ashley Cuttino, an attorney who co-chairs the COVID-19 litigation practice for Ogletree Deakins.
Wisconsin came close on Jan. 12 to enacting the first liability protection law of 2021, but fell short because of differences between the Assembly and Senate versions of a broad COVID-19 relief bill.
Both include liability protections but differ in other provisions, such as the Assembly bill’s proposed ban on employers mandating COVID-19 vaccines for their workers. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said he would sign the Senate version if the Assembly agrees to it.
Montana’s Senate passed a liability shield bill Jan. 18 that now goes to the House for consideration. Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte has said he supports the measure.
State-level liability protections, unlike the federal proposal the Senate GOP promoted for much of last year, don’t shield employers from...