Ohio Grants Broad Immunity From COVID-19 Lawsuits; Includes Health Care Providers

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Ohio House Bill 606 grants temporary immunity from civil actions related to the transmission of COVID-19 and limited immunity to health care providers related to civil actions and professional disciplinary actions.

On September 14, 2020, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed into law Ohio House Bill 606, which grants temporary immunity from civil actions related to the transmission of COVID-19 and limited immunity to health care providers related to civil actions and professional disciplinary actions.

Ohio House Bill 606 provides that a person may not bring a civil action for damages for injury, death, or loss to person or property if the action is based in whole or in part on the allegation that the injury was caused by the exposure, transmission, or contraction of MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, or SARS-CoV-2 (i.e., the virus that causes COVID-19) or any mutation thereof. However, this immunity does not apply if the exposure, transmission, or contraction resulted from the defendant's reckless, intentional, or willful or wanton misconduct. The law protects individuals, corporations, business trusts, estates, trusts, partnerships, and associations and explicitly states that schools, for-profit or nonprofit entities, governmental entities, religious entities, and state institutions for higher education are intended to be covered under the foregoing broader categories.

In addition, Ohio House Bill 606 provides protection to a broad range of health care providers. Health care providers are not subject to professional disciplinary action and are not liable for damages for injury, death, or loss to a person or property arising from the provision, withholding, or withdrawing of services or the compliance with an order issued during or in response to an emergency or disaster (such as COVID-19). There are exceptions to this general rule. A health care provider can still be subject to professional disciplinary actions if their conduct constitutes gross negligence. Additionally, health care providers are not extended immunity in a civil action if their conduct constitutes a "reckless disregard for the consequences so as to affect the life or health of the patient" or intentional or willful or wanton misconduct. Notably, the immunity applies only to (i) the provision, withholding, or withdrawal of health care services and medical care; (ii) decisions related to such services or care; and (iii) compliance with an executive order or director's order by a health care provider as a result of or in response to a disaster or emergency and through the duration of the disaster or emergency, and not simply care provided during the subject period.

The law further specifies that governmental orders, recommendations, and guidelines regarding COVID-19 do not create a duty of care or substantive legal right that could be used to establish civil liability, and there is a presumption that any such government order, recommendation, or guideline is not admissible as evidence establishing a legal duty or new cause of action. Likewise, the law does not create a new cause of action or substantive legal right against a health care provider. Additionally, even if immunity pursuant to this law does not apply, no class action may be brought against a person or health care provider alleging liability on a cause of action arising from the immunized actions in this law.

The law goes into effect on December 13, 2020, and applies to causes of action arising from March 9, 2020, through September 30, 2021.

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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