House committee advances bill protecting businesses, other institutions from frivolous COVID-19 lawsuits
MONTGOMERY — An Alabama House committee on Wednesday advanced a bill designed to protect businesses and other entities from frivolous coronavirus lawsuits.
The bill provides civil immunity from people who allege they caught or were exposed to COVID-19 as a result of decisions made by the relevant institutions. It has an exception to the immunity if the individual suing can prove egregious misconduct.
The bill, SB30, made its way through the Alabama Senate last week and now heads to the House floor for a vote by the entire lower chamber. The legislation is a top priority for leaders in the Statehouse and Capitol Hill.
In addition to businesses, the legislation gives immunity from civil lawsuits to health care providers, educational entities, churches, governmental entities and cultural institutions.
SB30 was sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and is being carried in the House by Rep. David Faulkner (R-Mountain Brook), who spoke in its favor in front of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Faulkner was questioned by Reps. Merika Coleman (D-Birmingham) and Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) over whether the bill was too protective and might allow for poor conduct by businesses.
Faulkner asserted he was “very comfortable with the bill” and pointed to text in the legislation that allows persons to sue if they can prove the misconduct meets specific standards.
The language of the bill establishes that claimants must prove the institutions they sue “caused the damages, injury, or death by acting with wanton, reckless, willful, or intentional misconduct.”
The bill does say the entities covered by the immunity “shall not be liable for negligence, premises liability, or for any non-wanton, non-willful, or non-intentional civil cause of action” if they “reasonably attempt” to comply with public health guidance.
Much of the tension in the committee discussion came over the legal definition of the term “negligence,” which the bill provides immunity from, versus “wanton misconduct,” which the bill does not.
Ultimately the bill received a favorable report on an 11-2 vote, with both England and Coleman voting “nay.”
The committee did give a favorable report on Wednesday to a bill, HB137, that would create a Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights.
HB 137 was sponsored by Rep. Chip Brown (R-Hollinger’s Island), and it would codify certain practices for dealing with sexual assault cases and make sure victims were notified of the rights they have in those instances.
More information on the bill is available here.
Also on Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee discussed HB1, sponsored by Rep. Wes Allen (R-Troy).
The legislation would prevent doctors in Alabama from providing treatment to minors that alters a child’s gender or delays puberty.
Doctors on both sides of the issue spoke at the committee, with one proponent saying the treatment was needed for those whose “inner sense of their gender conflicts with their gender assigned at birth.”
An opponent said some of the treatments “amount to child abuse” and supported the bill because he believes that many teens who identify as a gender they were not born in to are suffering from temporary gender dysphoria.
Rep. Jim Hill (R-Moody), the committee chairman, said the bill would be voted on by the committee when they reconvene in two weeks.