Ohio Enacts COVID-19 Liability Shield For Businesses, Others

By Y. Peter Kang
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Law360 (September 14, 2020, 7:51 PM EDT) -- Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Monday signed a law that shields businesses, health care providers and schools from civil liability for coronavirus-related injury and wrongful death suits, joining more than a dozen states with similar legislation in place.

DeWine, a Republican, signed H.B. 606, which states individuals, businesses, schools and health care providers can't be held liable for injuries or deaths related to COVID-19 exposure unless it can be established that a defendant committed reckless conduct, intentional misconduct, or willful or wanton misconduct. The novel coronavirus has killed 4,419 people in the Buckeye State as of Monday, according to state figures.

The law specifically bars class actions for injuries, deaths or loss of property absent reckless conduct, defined as "heedless indifference to the consequences" of COVID-19 exposure or transmission. The legislation is retroactive to March 9, when DeWine declared a state of emergency, and will expire Sept. 30, 2021.

"I want to congratulate the legislature for coming together and getting this job done," DeWine said Monday during a virtual signing ceremony.

The governor said the bill accomplishes two goals: to keep people safe and to jump-start a flagging state economy.

"I think House Bill 606 is very, very consistent with these two goals," he said.

Earlier versions of the bill received bipartisan support in the Ohio House of Representatives, but the vote in the Republican-controlled Senate was split along party lines. The Ohio legislature approved final versions of the bill this month, according to legislative records.

More than a dozen states have enacted a coronavirus liability shield for businesses, and Ohio is now the most populous state to have done so.

On Aug. 27, Idaho Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, signed the Coronavirus Limited Immunity Act shielding individuals, businesses, schools and churches from COVID-19 exposure suits unless it can be established that a defendant committed willful or reckless misconduct.

On Aug. 17, Tennessee's Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, signed into law the Tennessee COVID-19 Recovery Act, which requires a plaintiff to prove, under a "clear and convincing" evidence standard, that a defendant's gross negligence or willful misconduct caused a person's coronavirus-related injury or death.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, on Aug. 11 enacted a coronavirus business liability shield, which he touted as the "first in the nation" to provide protections for workers in the hospitality industry.

On Aug. 5, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, signed into law the COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act, which shields businesses and health care providers but not for cases involving gross negligence or willful misconduct.

Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof, a Republican, on Monday applauded the enactment of H.B. 606.

"Ohio's small businesses and schools are working hard to reopen, bring back employees, and safely welcome their customers and students," Obhof said in a statement. "This legislation helps provide the peace of mind they need to reopen as we work together to rebuild Ohio's economy."

--Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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