Anxious About Tort Liability? Ohio Enacts House Bill 606, ‘Good Samaritan Expansion Bill,’ to Limit Employer Liability for COVID-19 Exposure

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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed HB 606 into law on Monday, Sept. 16, 2020. Known as the “Good Samaritan Expansion Bill,” the law protects employers, both private and public, from civil action lawsuits for damages stemming from COVID-19 exposure, except in reckless or wanton exposure cases. In relevant part, the new law reads:

SECTION 2. (A) No civil action for damages for injury, death, or loss to person or property shall be brought against any person if the cause of action on which the civil action is based, in whole or in part, is that the injury, death, or loss to person or property is caused by the exposure to, or the transmission or contraction of, MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, or SARS-CoV-2, or any mutation thereof, unless it is established that the exposure to, or the transmission or contraction of, any of those viruses or mutations was by reckless conduct or intentional misconduct or willful or wanton misconduct on the part of the person against whom the action is brought.

HB 606. Further, the law clarifies that as the government issues orders, recommendations and guidelines about COVID-19, none of these can create a new cause of action or impose a duty of care on individuals based on the content of the government directives. Notably, the law also prohibits COVID-19-based class actions.

(B) A government order, recommendation, or guideline shall neither create nor be construed as creating a duty of care upon any person that may be enforced in a cause of action or that may create a new cause of action or substantive legal right against any person with respect to the matters contained in the government order, recommendation, or guideline. A presumption exists that any such government order, recommendation, or guideline is not admissible as evidence that a duty of care, a new cause of action, or a substantive legal right has been established.

(C) If the immunity described in division (A) of this section does not apply, no class action shall be brought against any person alleging liability for damages for injury, death, or loss to person or property on a cause of action specified in that division.

The law recognizes many of the unique challenges that Ohio businesses are facing as the economy reopens. The law is designed to provide protection to Ohio businesses that are anxious about tort liability as they reopen and it addresses many topics about which businesses may be concerned, including:

  • The law discusses the numerous COVID-19 lawsuits across the country and aims to prevent such lawsuits against Ohio businesses.
  • The law also references the frequently changing prevention recommendations, such as the CDC’s initial position that masks were ineffective to the current recommendation that masks are encouraged. The law addresses the concern such changing recommendations can cause by ensuring that government orders, recommendations and guidelines, such as the CDC example, do not create tort liability.
  • The law also mentions that business owners have not historically been required to prevent members of the public from being exposed to airborne viruses, bacteria and germs – stating further that individuals have now, as they have in the past, the responsibility to decide for themselves what measures they need to take to avoid such exposure. The law seeks to reassure businesses that although these are unprecedented times, individuals still retain a duty of care to themselves that they cannot pass off to business owners.

The law is retroactive to the date of the governor’s Executive Order 2020-01D, issued on March 9, 2020, declaring a state of emergency due to COVID-19, and will remain in effect through Sept. 30, 2021. During this time, Ohio businesses should be able to focus on the needs of their businesses, employees and customers without undue worry about lawsuits in the event of an unfortunate second COVID-19 outbreak.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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