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New Law Shields Nev. Businesses From Virus Injury Suits

By Y. Peter Kang · Aug 12, 2020, 7:17 PM EDT

Nevada Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak has enacted a law that shields businesses from civil liability for coronavirus-related injury and wrongful death suits, touting it as the "first in the nation" to provide protections for workers in the hospitality industry.

Under the new law, signed by Sisolak during a virtual signing ceremony on Tuesday, premises owners for at least three years can't be held liable for injuries or deaths related to COVID-19 exposure or infection unless it can be established that a defendant was grossly negligent in violating safety guidelines set by state health officials. The novel coronavirus has killed 996 people in the Silver State as of Wednesday, according to state figures.

The law, which notably excludes schools and health care facilities such as hospitals, requires hotels and casinos in Las Vegas and Reno to institute cleaning and social distancing protocols and requires free testing of employees and paid time off for those who test positive and are in quarantine. In addition, if an employee tests positive the employer must inform his or her co-workers of the positive test within 24 hours or "as soon as practicable," according to the law.

Sisolak said during Tuesday's ceremony that the law, referred to as S.B. 4, is the first in the country to provide such hospitality worker protections and was necessary given the state's reliance on the tourism and hospitality industries.

"We all understand the need to protect these jobs, and these workers," Sisolak said. "This does that by making sure our industry employees feel safe and protected at work, while our businesses creating these vital jobs are safe from unwarranted harm."

The law is retroactive to Aug. 5 and will remain in effect until the end of the state's COVID-19 health emergency or July 1, 2023, whichever is later.

More than 280,000 union and nonunion hospitality workers in Las Vegas and Reno will be protected by the law, according to the Culinary Workers Union, the largest local workers' union in Las Vegas.

"Behind every worker in this state there is a family and the Culinary Union is proud to have won the best safety standards for all workers in the state's largest industry," the union's secretary-treasurer, Geoconda Argüello-Kline, said in a Tuesday statement.

Meanwhile, the Nevada Hospital Association said it was disappointed that medical facilities were shut out of the bill.

"Hospitals and health care workers have been on the front lines of COVID-19 since March and not extending premises liability protections to them creates situations that need to be addressed to ensure the safety of patients, employees and hospitals themselves," the group's president and CEO, Bill Welch, said in a statement Tuesday.

Nevada joins about a dozen other states that have enacted COVID-19 liability shields for businesses and follows Georgia's Aug. 5 adoption of a similar law.

--Editing by Bruce Goldman.

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