Legal protection for businesses, healthcare providers and other groups from lawsuits related to the pandemic became law in Alabama on Feb. 12. Act No. 2021-4 by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook, became effective the moment Gov. Kay Ivey signed it.
The Alabama House approved the legislation Feb. 11 on a vote of 86-4. On Feb. 4, the Alabama Senate voted 28-1 to protect those operating safely and responsibly during the pandemic from unwarranted and financially devastating lawsuits.
The Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee, a coalition of 24 associations and businesses, including the Alabama Retail Association, praised Orr, Faulkner and the governor for their leadership on this much needed law.
Entities covered include businesses, nonprofits, LLCs, health care providers, educational entities, churches, governmental entities and cultural institutions operating in Alabama, as well as individuals associated with these entities.
Those groups already had COVID-liability protection based on a May 8, 2020, emergency gubernatorial proclamation. The legislation enacted in the second week of the 2021 regular session codifies that protection after the state is no longer under an emergency health order. The state of emergency ends July 6, 2021.
The law provides civil immunity and protects against certain damages claimed by individuals who allege that they contracted or were exposed to COVID-19 due to an act or omission of a business or healthcare provider. The law “restores the confidence” and reassurance of law businesses and healthcare workers need as they work to rebound from COVID-19, Faulkner said.
In a statement after the Senate vote, Orr said, “For our economy to continue to survive and recover, these groups need to know that they will be protected if they are making every effort to follow health and sanitization protocols.”
Under the new law, an entity would be liable if it acts with wanton, reckless, willful or intentional misconduct that can be proven under a “clear and convincing” evidentiary standard. Following applicable public health guidance frees the entities from liability. The state health order falls under the definition of “applicable public health guidance.”
The law’s immunity provisions are retroactive to March 13, 2020, and remain in effect until a year after the state’s COVID-19 health emergency order expires. Its protections are due to expire July 6, 2022.
“This does not mean that a COVID-related claim that is filed after July 6, 2022, will necessarily lose the protection afforded by the Act,” ACJRC said in a statement. “If a claim arises prior to July 6, 2022, then it remains covered by the Act’s provisions. … the Act is intended to continue to afford protection for all COVID-related suits that arise prior to July 6, 2022, regardless of when filed. ”
This article is part of the Alabama Retail Report, a communication for Alabama Retail Association members. Not a member? Join us!
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Originally posted 9:35 a.m. Feb. 4, 2021