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Legislative Committee Approves Bill For COVID-related Lawsuit Protections
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A legislative committee has approved a bill to protect people and organizations from lawsuits related to COVID-19 exposures or damages.

House Bill 1046 intends to limit liability for certain COVID exposures. It’s designed to protect business owners, healthcare providers and the manufacturers of personal protective equipment.

Property owners cannot be liable for damages related to COVID-19 transmission or injuries on their property. Healthcare providers cannot be liable for any damages relating to death or injury as a result of their COVID response.

Representative David Anderson is the prime sponsor of the proposal. He says protections should be in place to limit financial losses and business closures.

“We don’t want businesses to have to bear the burden of a lawsuit, what we would believe to be a frivolous lawsuit when they’re already struggling. Whether it’s a business, a school, these folks are doing everything they can in the face of an unforeseen, unplanned event.”

Anderson says the bill is modeled after a similar law passed in Iowa last year. It was amended to remove protections for civil damages that constitutes gross negligence, recklessness or willful misconduct.

Opponents of the bill say it could lead to relaxed COVID mitigation efforts for places like long-term care facilities with no compensation for future damages.

Loren Paul is President of the South Dakota Education Association. He says schools could change their coronavirus policies if the bill passes.

“Our members generally feel safe in our schools, but they are concerned that the passage of this bill will lead to some schools relaxing those measures before the pandemic is over.”

The bill says to file a lawsuit an individual would need to show they were intentionally exposed. A plaintiff would need to require a positive COVID test and prove that someone intended to transmit the disease.

HB 1046 passed out of committee 12-1. It now heads to the House floor. If approved, liability protections would cover from Jan. 1, 2020 through the end of 2022.