In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohio Governor, Mike DeWine, signed House Bill 606 (the “Bill”) into law. The main focus of the Bill is to provide businesses certain immunities from liability claims in connection with COVID-19, and to deter the number of lawsuits initiated by people who contract, or claim businesses helped transmit, the coronavirus. Specifics of the Bill include:
Qualified Immunity for Businesses
The Bill generally provides immunity to businesses and prevents a claimant from bringing a civil action for injury, death or loss to a person or property against employers based upon the exposure to, the transmission or contraction of, COVID-19 or any related mutation.
Application and Duration of Immunity
The Bill applies to acts, omissions, conduct, decisions, or compliance from the date of the Governor’s Executive Order, 2020-01D, issued on March 9, 2020, declaring a state of emergency due to COVID-19, through December 31, 2020.
The Bill provides that if the general immunity does not apply, a claimant is prohibited from bringing a class action lawsuit against a business alleging liability for damages for injury, death, or loss to a person or property based on the specified cause of action. In addition, the Bill provides that a government order, recommendation, or guideline does not create a duty of care on a person that may be enforced in a cause of action or that may create a new cause of action or substantive right against any person regarding the matters in the government order, recommendation, or guideline.
The Bill is Not an Impenetrable Shield of Armor
While offering protection and safeguards to businesses, the Bill helps – but does not absolve – businesses from their obligation to maintain safe conditions for both employees and customers. In other words, this Bill does not provide business owners a carte blanche to ignore health and safety protocols or the ability to avoid liability regardless of the circumstances.
The Bill specifically addresses these concerns and provides specific carve-outs that exclude businesses from the Bill’s immunity protection. Under the Bill, a claimant may proceed with a lawsuit if the claimant can prove: (1) conduct that constitutes a reckless disregard of the consequences or intentional or willful or wanton misconduct on the part of the person against whom the action is brought or (2) gross negligence.
Of particular note, employers and individuals should also be aware that the protections set forth in the Bill may help businesses defend lawsuits from employees, customers and vendors alleging exposure to COVID-19, but the Bill does not shield employers from COVID-19-related discrimination, disability or leave of absence claims, or lawsuits alleging violations of wage and hour laws.
Protect Your Business from Potential COVID-19 Exposure Lawsuits