Lawmakers seek to shield businesses from some COVID-19-related lawsuits

Coronavirus 08

Lawmakers want businesses to re-open amid the coronavirus pandemic without fear of being sued if their customers or workers catch the virus.

SB3007 from Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Draper, shields businesses from personal injury claims related to COVID-19, so long as they are not acting neglectfully or recklessly.

“Some business owners have expressed concern that when they open up again, could they be liable for someone contracting the virus at their place of businesses,” said Cullimore. “Just bringing this kind of claim can be detrimental to businesses.”

Cullimore said he believes granting immunity from some COVID-19-related lawsuits won’t lead businesses to abandon their responsibilities when it comes to helping to stop the spread of the virus. He added that absent these protections, businesses would be reluctant to participate in programs to help track the spread of the coronavirus.

However, some of Cullimore’s colleagues were skeptical of the need to provide these protections.

“I haven’t seen businesses say we need protection,” said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross. “We’ve been through H1N1 and the bird flu. Once we start doing this, every time there’s something new, will we be pressured to provide these kinds of protections? When we extend these carte blanche, it’s a slippery slope.”

Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, offered an amendment requiring businesses to post a notice that customers may not have legal recourse if they contract the coronavirus, which may cause some businesses to abrogate their responsibilities.

“We’re lowering the bar for some people who will no longer fear a lawsuit. This is solving a problem that doesn’t exist,” she said.

Cullimore pushed back on the amendment, saying he does not believe businesses will ignore guidelines without the threat of a lawsuit.

“I believe the free market will work itself out,” he said. “Employees and customers are not going to work at or visit businesses that don’t take their responsibilities seriously.”

Iwamoto’s amendment was defeated easily by the Republican majority.

Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, says taking this kind of legal action off the table will give business owners confidence to reopen sooner than they would otherwise.

“I agree with nipping this in the bud. We need to deter some attorney that would be happy to file a claim in the hopes that it would be settled out of court. Not all of them would do this, but there are some who would,” he said.

“At some point, businesses are going to reopen again,” added Cullimore. “COVID-19 is not going to go away. We will learn to deal with it. This bill will help the economy come back sooner.”

The Senate passed the bill on Thursday morning. The House will consider the bill when they convene later today.