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Wednesday, 17 June 2020 18:56

TN House Passes Bill to Protect Businesses from COVID-19 Lawsuits

Written by Tyler Arnold, The Center Square

Legislation to prevent businesses, schools, nonprofits and other entities from being sued in COVID-19-related lawsuits passed the Tennessee House on June 16.

The legislation, Senate Bill 2381, would require a person to demonstrate with clear and convincing evidence an entity operated with gross negligence or willful misconduct, causing that person to contract the coronavirus. It also would require a person show the entity did not act in substantial compliance with any federal or state public health guidance.

 

A clear and convincing evidence standard and a requirement to demonstrate either gross negligence or willful misconduct are both higher standards than an average tort claim.

 

This legislation was primarily drafted to prevent frivolous lawsuits and to provide business owners with confidence to reopen, Rep. Michael Curcio, R-Dickson, said on the House floor June 16. Curcio was the primary sponsor of the House’s version of the legislation, House Bill 2623.

 

Curcio said the bill will provide a high burden of proof and make it difficult for frivolous lawsuits to get through the door in the first place. However, he said bad actors still would be held accountable.

 

Some Democrats raised concerns about the bill. Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, proposed unsuccessful amendments to soften the protections. He said essential services deserve some additional protections, but the legislation is too broad and includes too many entities, which he said simply should be covered under current tort law.

 

“This legislation is absolutely unnecessary,” Clemmons said.

 

The bill would not force any business to follow the public health guidance. Rather, any business or entity not following the guidance still would be protected under current tort law, but would not be given these heightened protections.

 

This legislation now will head back to the Senate after being amended. One of the main differences is the Senate-passed version would be enacted retroactively, making it applicable to lawsuits before the legislation was passed. The amended version removes this element.

 

Rep. Chris Todd, R-Madison County, said on the House floor he would prefer a bill that goes into effect retroactively because the General Assembly was not in session early enough to address this at COVID-19’s onset.

 

Curcio, although sympathetic to Todd’s concerns, said he believes the courts would find a retroactive clause unconstitutional, and he does not want the courts to throw out the entire bill if that part is ruled unconstitutional.

 

We thank The Center Square for reprint permission. 

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