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Senate committee advances bill providing ‘safe harbor’ to businesses, other entities against frivolous COVID-19 lawsuits

MONTGOMERY — The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning gave a favorable report to Senator Arthur Orr’s (R-Decatur) SB 30, which would provide limited liability protections to businesses, health care providers and other entities against civil lawsuits related to COVID-19.

The committee vote was 9-2.

The bill would provide a “safe harbor” against frivolous coronavirus lawsuits, however it does not offer blanket immunity. SB 30 would still allow “wanton, reckless, willful, or intentional misconduct” to be the subject of civil actions related to the virus.

This is a priority bill for legislative leadership, Governor Kay Ivey, and the business and medical communities. Orr also worked diligently with the legal community on the legislation.

He has explained that the bill would not protect entities that willfully ignore governmental health orders and guidelines. Instead, Orr and proponents of the legislation anticipate that it will simply shield “good actors” from being victimized.

Rosemary Elebash, National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) state director for Alabama, said in a statement, “Small businesses that follow the government’s guidelines to protect their customers and employees should be protected from baseless claims related to the pandemic.”

“Businesses that ignore the rules should be held accountable, but those that follow the guidelines should be shielded from lawsuits,” she continued.

“Small businesses already are struggling to get through the crisis, and the cost of defending themselves against even one frivolous claim could be enough to put them out of business and put their employees out of work,” Elebash concluded. “On behalf of our members, we urge the Alabama Senate to pass SB30.”

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) expressed reservations about the exact language contained in Orr’s bill.

“Senator Orr, I want to thank you,” said Singleton during Wednesday’s committee meeting. “I just want to say this right at the top: while I may disagree with this bill, that doesn’t mean that we disagree with safe harbor for businesses. Because we want to see businesses thrive in this environment also.”

Singleton added that he was not worried about “good actors” but instead was concerned “bad actors” could be protected by SB 30 due to the heightened standard of proof plaintiffs would have to meet.

“I think that’s where this bill discourages me a little bit. But all the good actors — I think those people should be protected if they’ve done what they need to do,” Singleton added.

SB 30 can now be considered by the full Senate.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

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