Society supports bill granting businesses civil immunity for COVID-19 transmission

OSCPA staff report

The Ohio Society of CPAs this week submitted a letter of support for a bill that would revise the law governing civil liability for health care providers and service providers during a government-declared disaster.

State Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, the sponsor of Senate Bill 308, said it is meant to protect businesses from litigation related to consequences they could not have prepared for in the pandemic.

The bill clarifies liability to businesses that are doing something to sustain or help people during a disaster or emergency, especially if a person is exposed to and suffers a disease as a result of visiting that business. The liability protection would not apply if the person or business involved acted in an intentional, willful or wanton manner.

In a May 12 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, OSCPA President & CEO Scott D. Wiley, CAE, and Barbara J. Benton, CAE, vice president of government relations, said CPAs have had a front-row seat to the difficulties businesses have had during the pandemic.

“Essential service providers have worked hard to protect employees and customers alike by following frequently evolving mandates and best practices,” the Society wrote. “Others that were forced to shut down operations have struggled to survive long enough to reopen their doors and bring back employees.”

OSCPA wrote that Ohio needs to act to protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits because of the fast-moving guidance and regulations being issued as physicians learn more about the illness, and because anyone encountering the business is a potential plaintiff.

“The risk of an onslaught of virus-related lawsuits is high, and the cost of defending even a single lawsuit could force an already struggling small business to permanently close. Senate Bill 308 addresses those concerns by providing that a person who provides services during a declared disaster is generally not liable if someone is exposed to an illness when providing those services.”

OSCPA is one of the leading organizations that comprise the Ohio Alliance for Civil Justice, many members of which this week issued statements of support for the bill.

Another portion of SB 308 deals largely with the health care industry and defines individuals and entities not formerly designated to have immunity during disasters in current law. Hannah News Service reported that Senate Judiciary Committee members suggested the bill might need more work before it goes to the Senate floor.

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