Thursday, May 07, 2020

Bill granting businesses immunity from coronavirus lawsuits stalls, Governor expected to issue an executive order

Earlier this week, Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur introduced a bill (SB330) to protect businesses from lawsuits amid the COVID-19 health pandemic. The measure was approved in Senate committee but never made it to the full Senate because Senate and House leadership on Wednesday afternoon said they will not take up bills that aren’t directly tied to the budgets or local to members’ districts.

The bill would have provided civil immunity for covered entities operating in Alabama from certain claims and damages claimed by individuals who allege that they contracted or were exposed to COVID-19.

Exceptions to this immunity exist if the covered entity acted with wanton, reckless, willful or intentional misconduct and such misconduct must be proven under a “clear and convincing” evidentiary standard. Cases that do not involve death or “serious physical injury” are limited to recovering actual out-of-pocket economic damages. Punitive damages cannot generally be recovered. Read the full text of the bill here.

“Truckers remain on the front lines of the crisis response,” said Alabama Trucking Association President and CEO Mark Colson, “and we will be on the front lines of the economic recovery, as well. But to do so, trucking, as well as all businesses, need protection from frivolous lawsuits. For Alabama’s economy to start rolling again, it is essential that the legislature pass civil liability protections for businesses and their employees.”

Meanwhile, the Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee (ACJRC) and lawyers representing other state business groups, including the ATA, finalized a proposed emergency order that the coalition is strongly encouraging Gov. Key Ivey to issue immediately. The order closely tracks the language in SB330 and would offer stopgap protection until an Act could be passed later. This likely means that the issue will be taken up during a special session at the call of the governor.

When the time arrives, we encourage our members to contact their state representatives once the Legislature takes up the measure. For now, please read through these talking points prepared by the ACJRC.