On February 25, 2021, the Wisconsin Legislature enacted 2021 Wisconsin Act 4 (the “Act”), which, in part, grants immunity to business entities from civil liability related to COVID-19 exposure, with certain exceptions.
Specifically, the Act immunizes certain entities from civil liability for any act or omission in the course of performance or provision of the entity’s function or services, that leads to death or injury to an individual or damages caused by an act or omission resulting from or relating to exposure directly or indirectly to COVID-19 (or its variants), or conditions associated with the infectious disease. However, civil immunity does not extend to acts or omissions that are reckless, wanton conduct, or intentional misconduct.
For purposes of the civil immunity provision, the Act broadly defines an “entity” as any partnership, corporation, association, governmental entity, tribal government, tribal entity, or other legal entity. Such entities include schools, institutions of higher education, nonprofit organizations, and any employer or business owner, employees, agents, volunteers (whether paid or unpaid), and independent contractors. Thus, even healthcare employers facing COVID-19 daily, such as hospitals, academic medical centers, clinics, and laboratories are afforded the immunity provided under the Act.
Entities will enjoy civil immunity for applicable claims accruing on or after March 1, 2020. The immunity afforded to entities under the Act is provided in addition to any other immunity granted by law (e.g., emergency healthcare practitioners covered under Wis. Stats. Ch. 257, volunteer fire company organized under Wis. Stats. Ch. 213, etc.).
While the Act’s immunity should ease some of the concerns businesses have as they begin to reopen and lift restrictions, such entities should continue to use caution and develop and implement policies in line with recommended guidelines relating to COVID-19. Implementing such policies will further support that the entity has not acted reckless or engaged in any wanton or intentional misconduct causing the entity to lose the liability protections afforded under the Act. Failure to implement precautions could be seen as an act or omission that is reckless or intentional.