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Ala. Gov. Signs Law Shielding Businesses From Virus Liability

By Lauren Berg · Feb 12, 2021, 9:11 PM EST

Alabama became the latest state to enact a coronavirus liability shield for businesses, health care providers and schools on Friday as Gov. Kay Ivey signed the new immunity bill into law.

Alabama's S.B. 30 protects businesses, churches, schools, health care providers, government entities and other groups from lawsuits alleging they are responsible for the spread of COVID-19 among workers, students or customers.

The coronavirus liability bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, passed the Alabama Senate on Feb. 4 by a vote of 28 to 1 with six abstentions and passed the House on Thursday 86 to 4 with 10 abstentions, according to the legislation record.

The new law was one of three bills signed Friday by the governor, who said the state government remains committed to helping Alabama residents and businesses get back on their feet in the midst of the pandemic.

"We are ensuring that our state will continue to grow our diverse economy and we are protecting our existing businesses from any frivolous lawsuits due to COVID-19," Ivey said in a statement Friday.

The new legislation does not protect entities from lawsuits if they "caused the damages, injury or death by acting with wanton, reckless, willful or intentional misconduct," according to the bill.

However, in those instances where liability is established but there was no serious physical injury, the entity will only be liable for compensatory damages and not punitive damages, the bill reads. But someone asserting a health emergency claim alleging wrongful death is only entitled to punitive damages, according to the bill.

The immunity provisions arrive with an expiration date of Dec. 31 or one year after the declared health emergency related to the coronavirus expires, whichever is later, according to the bill. Civil liability arising out of acts related to health emergency claims will be shielded in perpetuity, the bill reads.

Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, and Democratic Reps. Barbara Boyd, Merika Coleman-Evans, Chris England and Ralph Howard opposed the bill.

The legislators did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

Alabama isn't the only state to enact a coronavirus liability shield.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, in September signed into law H.B. 606, which mandates that 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.

In August, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia enacted the COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act, which shields businesses and health care providers but doesn't cover cases involving gross negligence or willful misconduct. State legislators this year are expected to extend those protections, which are due to expire in July.

The Pennsylvania legislature recently passed similar legislation, but it was vetoed in November by Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, who said the bill created a potential safety risk and went too far in shielding businesses from coronavirus-related claims.

--Additional reporting by Y. Peter Kang, Rosie Manins and Matt Fair. Editing by Ellen Johnson.

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