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Alabama House sends bill shielding businesses from frivolous COVID-19 lawsuits to Ivey’s desk

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives passed on Thursday a bill designed to shield businesses, churches and other entities from frivolous coronavirus lawsuits.

The legislation, SB30, originated in the Alabama Senate and now heads to Governor Kay Ivey for final approval. She has indicated in the past that she will sign the bill, which is set to take the place of an executive order she issued in 2020 that provides many of the same protections the bill offers.

Legislation shielding businesses from lawsuits had been a priority for state leaders coming into the 2021 legislative session, and it will be among the first bills to land on the governor’s desk of the year.

The final vote in the House was 86-4 with 10 abstentions. Its tally in the Senate last week was 28-1.

The four representatives who voted in opposition, all members of the Democratic Party, indicated concern that the bill was too generous to the entities it protected.

In response to those concerns, Rep. David Faulkner (R-Mountain Brook) noted the legislation has an exception for those who can prove the institution they wish to sue engaged in “wanton, reckless, willful, or intentional misconduct.” He also pointed out that protections only apply to institutions who attempt to follow public health guidelines.

“Now is our chance as a state to join numerous other states in adopting a bill that will provide confidence and reassurance to businesses, the healthcare community, schools, churches, nonprofits and others as they work to rebound from this pandemic,” said Faulkner, who handled the bill in the House, in his introduction of the bill.

“By giving these entities, and their workers, protection against civil liability and certain damages claimed by individuals who allege that they contracted or were exposed to COVID-19 due to an act or omission… we give them the backing they need to move forward in a responsible manner,” he remarked.

Additionally, he explained that the bill does not protect employers against workers’ compensation claims brought by employees who allege unsafe environments. Faulkner noted Thursday that the legislation only concerns lawsuits from third parties who claim they caught COVID-19 or were exposed to it while at a business.

The idea to provide a liability shield for businesses and other institutions originated in March 2020, shortly after the first case appeared in Alabama, but was not able to make it through the legislative process during the COVID-19 shortened 2020 session.

In remarks to reporters after the chamber adjourned, House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) credited the overwhelming approval of the bill to what he described as careful and deliberate work that went into drafting the legislation over the last year.

SB30 was sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur).

“For our economy to continue to survive and recover, these groups need to know that they will be protected if they are making every effort to follow health and sanitization protocols,” Orr told Yellowhammer News when the legislation passed the Senate.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@new-yhn.local or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.