On June 26, 2020, the Georgia General Assembly passed Senate Bill (SB) 359 to limit liability for COVID-19-related claims. The bill, which is titled “Georgia COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act,” has not yet been signed by Governor Brian Kemp. Several states have enacted similar legislation, including Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and North Carolina.
SB 359 protects covered entities and individuals from liability for injury or death related to COVID-19 “unless the claimant proves that the actions … showed: gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, reckless infliction of harm, or intentional infliction of harm.” Under the bill, a “COVID-19 liability claim” includes those for “[t]ransmission, infection, exposure, or potential exposure [to the virus] … resulting in injury to or death of a claimant” and for “[m]anufacturing, labeling, donating, or distributing personal protective equipment [PPE] or sanitizer … which departs from normal … that proximately results in injury to or death of a claimant.” PPE is defined to include, but is not limited to, “gloves, masks, face shields, safety glasses, shoes, earplugs, muffs, respirators, coveralls, vests, and full body suits.”
Covered entities are defined specifically to include healthcare facilities and healthcare providers, as well as associations, companies, corporations, governmental entities, religious or educational organizations, and volunteer organizations, among others. In addition, the bill provides immunity to individuals.
SB 359 creates an assumption of the risk defense when specific warnings are posted and/or published to the public and meet size and placement requirements. Availability of this defense would be in addition to the immunities provided in the bill.
SB 359 would take effect “upon its approval by the Governor or upon its becoming law without such approval or on August 7, 2020, whichever occurs first.” If enacted, the new law would apply to claims “accruing until July 14, 2021.”
Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor and report on developments with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic and will post updates in the firm’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center as additional information becomes available. Important information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar programs.