by Nyamekye Daniel
A bill that would extend the length of time Georgia businesses are protected from certain COVID-19-related lawsuits cleared the Senate on Wednesday.
The Senate voted, 36-17, in favor of House Bill 112, which extends the applicability of the Georgia COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act by a year, from July 14, 2021, to July 14, 2022.
Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, who presented the bill Wednesday said it offers a balance to businesses staying open during the pandemic.
“All we’re doing with House Bill 112 is extend(ing) the sunset on our COVID immunity law that continues to provide stability for our citizens, as we navigate another year of COVID-19,” Strickland said.
The Georgia COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act prevents health care facilities and providers and other businesses, including those who sell personal protective equipment, from being sued because of potential exposure to or transmission of COVID-19. It excludes protections for businesses or health care providers that have been proven negligent or guilty of “willful and wanton misconduct, reckless infliction of harm, or intentional infliction of harm.”
Sen. Jennifer Jordan, D-Atlanta, filed an amendment Wednesday that would allow essential workers to file workers’ compensation claims if they contract COVID-19.
“So, the two areas of recourse that a worker has, and specifically essential workers have with respect to having put their lives family’s health on the line, showing up every day to open and work for the businesses that we now laud, they have absolutely no recourse if they get sick,” Jordan said.
Jordan’s amendment failed, as did another amendment aimed at stripping some of the gross negligence exemptions.
The measure has received support from the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
“I think the bill strikes the right balance by still allowing gross negligence cases to be brought,” Strickland said. “Because what that says from a legal standpoint is you should at least be following the guidance that you’re given at the time. So, we do expect businesses to take some precautions, and that’s the balance you see in this bill.”
HB 112 cleared the House, 99-68, last month. It must get final approval from Gov. Brian Kemp.
Kemp issued an executive order in April that included similar liability protections for health care workers during the COVID-19 public health state of emergency.
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Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for four years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel’s work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times. Daniel is a staff reporter for The Center Square.