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Monday, 10 August 2020 18:18

COVID-19 Liability Shield in Effect for Georgia Businesses

Written by Chris Marr, Bloomberg Law

Index

A new liability shield law makes Georgia the most recent and the most populous state to protect businesses and other organizations from potential lawsuits over COVID-19 exposure.

Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed the legislation, S.B. 359, late Aug. 5 limiting liability claims brought by customers, employees or members of the public who contract or allege exposure to the virus. The new law took effect immediately and is set to expire in July 2021. It applies broadly to claims brought against businesses, nonprofits and individuals, while also specifically protecting health care providers.

 

Like similar laws enacted in seven other states, the new Georgia law allows liability claims to succeed only in cases where the business or other organization showed gross negligence or similar disregard for health and safety standards.

 

The liability limitations apply “if you’re substantially following the rules” for safe business operations, said Sen. Chuck Hufstetler (R), one of the sponsors of the Georgia legislation. “I thought that was a fair compromise.”

 

The measure takes effect just as debate heats up in Congress over federal liability protections that could override state efforts.

 

Senate GOP leadership unveiled legislation on July 27 that would shift claims related to coronavirus exposure into an employer-friendly federal court process, while also providing businesses with a safe harbor against several types of employment claims if they can show they were generally following health and safety guidelines.

 

Nationwide counterpart sought

 

The liability proposal is a major sticking point in negotiations over additional COVID-19 relief legislation between the Senate and House, where Democratic leaders have voiced opposition to giving businesses a liability shield.

 

Republican attorneys general from 22 states praised the liability limitations enacted by states like Georgia but urged congressional leaders to pass a nationwide law limiting COVID-19 liability in a letter sent Aug. 5.

 

“As you are probably aware, states across the country have taken steps to address the need for timely, targeted and temporary civil liability protections in light of the pandemic, but the need for a uniform national baseline of liability protection still exists,” wrote the group of AGs led by Chris Carr of Georgia and Sean Reyes of Utah.

 

Whether at the state or federal level, liability limitation proposals have drawn praise from business advocates who say they’re crucial to helping businesses reopen and reviving the economy during the pandemic. Worker and consumer advocates meanwhile contend the proposals give businesses a free pass to skimp on safety precautions.

 

No bar to suit

 

The state proposals generally provide a defense against virus-related liability claims but don’t save businesses from having to defend themselves in court to show they weren’t grossly negligent.


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