Governor Mike DeWine Signs Amended House Bill 606 September 17, 2020

Governor Mike DeWine Signs Amended House Bill 606… Here’s What You Need to Know
By: David M. Cuppage

On Monday Governor Mike DeWine signed legislation to temporarily give businesses, health-care workers and schools legal immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

Amended House Bill 606, which takes effect in 90 days and lasts from March 8, 2020 through September 2021, has three significant provisions.

            Healthcare Provider Tort Protection

First, a health care provider that provides health care services, emergency medical services, first-aid treatment, or other emergency professional care, including the provision of any medication or other medical equipment or product, as a result of or in response to a disaster or emergency is not subject to professional disciplinary action and is not liable in damages to any person or government agency in a tort action for injury, death, or loss to person or property that allegedly arises from any of the following: (a) An act or omission of the health care provider in the health care provider’s provision, withholding, or withdrawal of those services; (b) Any decision related to the provision, withholding, or withdrawal of those services; (c) Compliance with an executive order or director’s order issued during and in response to the disaster or emergency.

This immunity does not apply to actions outside the skills, education, and training of the health care provider, unless the health care provider undertakes the action in good faith and in response to a lack of resources caused by a disaster or emergency.

This immunity does not apply to reckless, intentional, willful or wanton misconduct, or gross negligence.

This immunity applies only to disasters or emergencies related to an epidemic and is declared to be a disaster by the federal government, the state government or a political subdivision of this state.

General Civil Liability Protection

Second, Amended House Bill 606 provides that  no civil action for damages for injury, death, or loss to person or property shall be brought against a school, for-profit or nonprofit entity, governmental entity, religious entity or state institution of higher education if the cause of action on which the civil action is based, in whole or in part, is that the injury, death, or loss to person or property is caused by the exposure to, or the transmission or contraction of, MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, or SARS-CoV-2, or any mutation thereof, unless it is established that the exposure to, or the transmission or contraction of, any of those viruses or mutations was by reckless conduct or intentional misconduct or willful or wanton misconduct on the part of the person or place/business against whom the action is brought.

In addition, Amended House Bill 606 provides that a  government order, recommendation, or guideline shall neither create nor be construed as creating a duty of care upon any person or place/business that may be enforced in a cause of action or that may create a new cause of action or substantive legal right against any person with respect to the matters contained in the government order, recommendation, or guideline. A presumption exists that any such government order, recommendation, or guideline is not admissible as evidence that a duty of care, a new cause of action, or a substantive legal right has been established.

Class Action Protection

Even if the immunity described in the Amended House Bill does not apply, no class action may be brought against any person, place or business alleging liability for damages for injury, death, or loss to person or property on a cause of action specified in that division.

General Assembly Findings

The legislation was deemed necessary due in large part to the fact that many Ohio business owners, small and large, have begun to re-open their business and are unsure of what their tort liability may be. Further, the General Assembly found that businesses and premises owners have not historically been required to keep members of the public from being exposed to airborne viruses, bacteria, and germs. In Ohio, it has been the responsibility of individuals going into public places to avoid exposure to individuals who are sick. The same is true today: those individuals who decide to go out into public places are responsible to take those steps they feel are necessary to avoid exposure to COVID-19, such as social distancing and wearing masks.

Importantly, this legislation does not replace employment related issues which might otherwise be governed by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, including paid sick leave, nor does it override Ohio’s workers compensation laws.

David M. Cuppage is a Principal at the Cleveland, OH-based law firm McCarthy, Lebit, Crystal & Liffman.

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