Hoosier business leaders overwhelmingly voiced support for a bill that would protect organizations from many lawsuits related to COVID-19.
Indiana lawmakers met for the first time this session to discuss Senate Bill 1 that addresses a fear expressed by many business leaders in the state – that unwarranted lawsuits could be financially devastating. However some worry parts of the bill are too broad in its protections.
The bill would protect businesses, hospitals, schools and other institutions from being sued by an individual claiming to have been exposed to COVID-19 while on the premises. It provides an exception for cases involving gross negligence or willful misconduct if clear and convincing evidence is provided.
Testimony from businesses, associations, and institutions representatives – including Purdue University – spoke in favor of the bill.
Barbara Quandt is the Indiana state director for the National Federation of Independent Business and has been advocating for months on the need for legislation to protect small business. She said for owners, even if they were to win a lawsuit, it could still be an overall loss.
“The last thing these beleaguered folks need is to fend off a costly frivolous lawsuit,” said Quandt. “If they're still in business, many maybe but one frivolous lawsuit away from closing for good. Taking the livelihoods and the jobs they create with them.”
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Indiana Attorney General-Elect Todd Rokita supports the bill and said it will help save taxpayer dollars from unnecessary lawsuits.
“And it’s still America, at least until the 20th, but because it’s still America, anyone can sue and rarely do those lawsuits get dismissed out of hand,” said Rokita. “So even if no liability attaches, because the fact pandemics happen, but the fact of the matter is these lawsuits can be costly.”
The language in the bill heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee is similar to laws already passed in other states including Utah, Iowa and Tennessee. As of now, there no federal COVID-19 liability law is in place.
Kathy Farinas with the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association said the goal of the bill is on point, but the current language gives overly broad sweeping immunity in certain areas.
For example, Farinas said the current bill provides immunity to hospitals and long-term care facilities, yet more than 4,000 Hoosiers have died from COVID-19 while in long-term care.
“The fact that this bill requires gross negligence to avoid the immunity that they would be given is not going to help those family members who have lost loved ones due to negligent care in a nursing home,” said Farinas.
A similar bill has been filed in the Indiana House, but has not been scheduled for a committee hearing yet.