Protecting Those on the Pandemic’s Frontlines
Over the past few weeks, my office has been hearing from constituents about an important piece of legislation working its way through the Missouri General Assembly. Senate Bill 51, also known as a COVID liability bill, provides legal protections for hardworking health care workers, businesses, certain manufacturers and others from opportunistic lawsuits stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the bill’s potential impact on our state, I wanted to take some time to talk about SB 51 and answer some of the reoccurring questions we have been getting regarding it.
Why do we need a COVID-19 liability protection bill?
During this pandemic, Missouri health care workers and charities should be encouraged to step up and serve their communities as best they can without fear of frivolous lawsuits. Missouri businesses are struggling as it is—they need certainty that they can safely reopen their doors, provide livelihoods and meet customers’ needs without the possibility of getting dragged into court and bankrupted by costly legal battles. Senate Bill 51 attempts to provide these reassurances and allow for an orderly recovery from the pandemic.
What does the bill cover?
Senate Bill 51 covers three main areas of liability relating to COVID-19:
- Exposure Liability – Businesses, schools, religious institutions and other entities are protected from lawsuits for someone being exposed to COVID-19 on their premises, unless the entity engaged in recklessness or willful misconduct that caused the exposure to COVID-19 and the exposure harmed others.
- Medical Liability – Health care providers are protected from damages that arise out of their efforts to provide COVID-19 related health care services, so long as they did not act recklessly or commit misconduct. The bill also stipulates that an elective procedure that is delayed for good cause will not be considered grounds for a suit. This language does not disregard any negligent acts that occur in nursing homes, long-term care facilities or hospitals that negatively affect the overall care of patients and residents.
- Product Liability – Certain manufacturers who produce equipment and supplies they would not make in the ordinary course of business in response to the pandemic would be protected from lawsuits relating to the products, unless they acted recklessly or committed fraud.
Does SB 51 protect bad actors?
No. As mentioned above, SB 51 does not protect individuals or entities who engage in fraud, deception, or reckless or willful misconduct.
Does SB 51 limit other lawsuits?
No. The legislation specifically says it does not limit or prohibit lawsuits relating to business closures or limiting activities by state or local orders; alleged breach of contract against insurers for refusal to pay business interruption claims; or alleged breach of contract against schools for refund of tuition or costs.
What is the statute of limitations for COVID-19 actions?
The statute of limitations for the three types of COVID-19 actions is as follows:
- Exposure actions – Two years after alleged exposure
- Medical liability actions – One year after the discovery of harm unless extended in order to obtain proof of fraud, intentional concealment or the presence of a foreign body with no therapeutic or diagnostic purpose
- Product liability actions – Two years after the alleged harm unless extended in order to obtain proof of fraud or intentional concealment
Does SB 51 require vaccinations?
No. Senate Bill 51 specifically says this law shall not be construed or used to mandate or require vaccinations or proof of vaccination. Furthermore, SB 51 does not provide protection from vaccine-related personal injuries claims.
It’s worth noting the provisions described above are only the Senate’s version of SB 51. As it prepares to head to the Missouri House of Representatives for further consideration in the near future, understand SB 51 is subject to change. Even as some of the more technical aspects of the bill are worked out, I firmly believe SB 51 will ensure health care workers, small businesses and others can operate without fear of being punished for simply trying to do the right thing during an extremely difficult time.
I am honored to continue serving the citizens of the 8th Senatorial District. If there is anything I can do to serve you, please feel free to contact my office in Jefferson City at (573) 751-1464. For information about my committee assignments or sponsored legislation for the 2021 session, please visit my official Missouri Senate website at senate.mo.gov/Cierpiot.