JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri lawmakers plan to protect businesses, healthcare providers, and schools from being sued over COVID-19.
Governor Mike Parson expanded the call for the current special session two weeks ago to now include COVID liability protection. If passed, it would stop people from suing businesses over COVID.
State Senator Ed Emery (R-Lamar) is sponsoring the legislation, Senate Bill 1, in the Senate. He said putting a piece of legislation like this together is not simple.
“Historically, we’ve never held businesses, schools, health care workers accountable for somebody catching the flu in their establishment,” Emery said. “This is kind of new in the world and that now we have plaintiffs and attorneys that who, because of the emergency and because of the so-called pandemic, they are seeing an opportunity to come in and start placing blame beyond the individual.”
Lawmakers have been talking about the importance of discussing COVID liability for months in order to protect “essential” places from lawsuits regarding the pandemic.
“How do you prove ‘I got this in Walmart,’ especially if Walmart has been declared an essential business so they have to be open, whether they want to be open or not,” Emery said.
Emery said under current state statutes, a person does not have to prove if they contracted COVID while in a business, they just have to get a group of people together who said it happened.
“That’s one of the reasons we are putting a high standard, a high threshold, on any kind of a COVID plaintiff act and it has to be deliberate, it has to be intentional, it has to be in breaking the law or ignoring some statue,” Emery said.
Across the aisle, House Minority Leader Crystal Quade said some businesses have put their employees at risk.
“Over and over, Governor Parson has stressed the need for personal responsibility in fighting COVID-19. But for businesses that negligently put their employees and customers at risk, he doesn’t want them to have to take any responsibility at all. While providing protections for businesses that follow the rules and take the necessary steps to keep people safe might be warranted, a blanket exemption that also shields bad actors from legal liability will encourage reckless behavior and make a crisis that already has spun out of control far worse.”Statement from Minority Leader Quade
SB 1 would protect people’s rights to access the courts but also protect people who can’t legitimately be charged with liability, Emery said. He said he’s heard from businesses across the state that are concerned about liability, including the healthcare system.
“They also faced a situation where scheduled surgeries were postponed because of the anticipated rush of COVID victims and if you were facing a kidney transplant and that got postponed because of COVID and then you died, then the survivors are not going to be happy,” Emery said.
At present, Emery’s bill would not only be used for COVID-19.
“Senate Bill 1 is drafted broadly for any emergency declaration,” Emery said.
According to the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, nearly 1,000 COVID lawsuits have been filed nationwide since March. Nearly all of Missouri’s bordering states have already passed something similar.
Emery said he hopes lawmakers can get the ball rolling on this legislation once they return after Thanksgiving. Senate Majority Leaders announced last week the Senate was postponing the special session until after the holiday due to rising COVID-19 cases among members and staff.