INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Indiana’s governor and legislative leaders are lining up in favor of giving
a legal shield to businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits when the General
Assembly returns to action next month.
the liability protection is needed for factories, stores, restaurants and
other institutions like universities so that they can stay open without
facing claims from an employee or customer over coronavirus exposure - even
though they haven’t been able to point to any such lawsuits in the state,
The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette reported.
“Are the odds that
anyone would get sued super high? Probably not,” said state Sen. Mark
Messmer, a Republican from Jasper. “But as long as people have a fear of a
potential civil lawsuit it’s going to handcuff the state from ever moving
back to some sort of normal.”
Messmer, who is
preparing a liability shield bill, said lawsuits would still be allowed in
cases of “willful misconduct” and “gross negligence.”
But Fred Schultz, a
Bloomington attorney and president of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association,
said granting immunity encourages businesses to behave badly and maintains
the proposal “is a solution in search of a problem.”
“The person doesn’t
even know they have acquired the virus for days so how on earth do we prove
it? That’s why there are no cases,” Schultz said. “It’s a pretty big ask to
say I got it at this hardware store not at this grocery store.”
The call for the
liability protections comes as the state health department reports Indiana
averaging more than 70 coronavirus deaths a day since early December and the
state’s hospitals treating four times more COVID-19 patients than they did
when a surge in cases began in September.
Republicans have been pushing for a national legal shield, but most
Democrats have opposed it. Lawmakers in at least 34 states have considered
legislation related to legal liability, according to the National Conference
on State Legislatures.
Labor and civil
rights groups oppose any shield, which they say strips essential workers of
potential legal recourse as they take risks during the pandemic.
President Pro Tem Rodric Bray of Martinsville said Indiana’s liability
shield could clear the GOP-dominated Legislature in the opening weeks of the
“It’s an important
way to help get our economy back and going, give people the confidence to
get back out there both for businesses and even charitable organizations,”
Bray said. “I think we’ll see that move through the Statehouse with some
dispatch and quite a bit of success.”
legislative action is rare, as only one bill has advanced to Gov. Eric
Holcomb’s desk during the first month of General Assembly’s session in his
first four years as governor, according to his office’s online bill tracker.
endorsed the liability shield.
president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said no protections will be
given if a business wasn’t following state and local regulations, such as
requiring face masks and limiting occupancy.
“We can’t have
employers, schools, health care facilities being sued and bombarded with
lawsuits because someone was in their facility a week, two weeks ago, and
has now contracted COVID and is claiming that they caught it at that
facility,” Brinegar said.
leader Phil GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne said any lawsuit protection should be
“written tightly” so it only applies to COVID-19-related issues.
“Of course, we want
to make sure that we are helping our small businesses and as well as holding
those bad actors accountable,” GiaQuinta said.