The COVID-19 liability bill, Senate Bill 51, sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, was approved Tuesday in a 20-13 vote, sending it over to the House.
SB 26, filed by Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Springs, which includes a “law enforcement bill of rights” and increased penalties for traffic-blocking, monument-vandalizing protesters was “perfected” post-lengthy debate, is ready for a Senate floor vote.
Under SB 51, no entity “engaged in businesses, services, activities or accommodations” shall be liable in any COVID-19 exposure lawsuit unless plaintiff proves “by clear and convincing evidence” that:
Entity “was not making reasonable efforts … to comply with applicable government standards, regulations and guidance;”
Entity “engaged in gross negligence or willful misconduct that caused an actual exposure to COVID-19;”
“Actual exposure to COVID-19 caused the personal injury of the plaintiff.”
SB 51 requires litigation to be filed within one year of alleged exposure. An amendment that would have allowed an emergency clause enacting it upon the governor’s signature failed to garner the necessary two-thirds vote.
SB 51 combines provisions from SB 42, filed by Sen. Bill White, R-Joplin, after the Senate spent 15 hours last week debating them, but was criticized by some Republicans for being too expensive for health care providers and too restrictive for businesses.
“The aim of SBs 51 and 42 was to protect businesses, hospitals, and entities providing products designed to protect against the coronavirus. The bill fell short of that aim by giving immunity to health care facilities, but not to all businesses,” stated Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove. “If the desire was to protect Missouri businesses from any liability related to exposure to a virus, a bill that would have been fair to all concerned should have been presented.”
The failed amendment soured four Republicans on the bill because without it, SB 51 won’t go into effect until August, leaving time for filing lawsuits.
“It’s just unacceptable,” White stressed.
“The bill already went through 15 hours of debate and compromise,” Luetkemeyer pointed out. “Restaurants and shops have been economically crippled due to closure. We need to give them a fighting chance to stay open.”
Missouri Chamber of Commerce & Industry President Daniel Mehan thanked senators for “making this a priority and passing this legislation. However, the failure to pass the emergency clause is bad for employers and hurts our economic recovery. The threat of litigation looms over every employer in Missouri.”
At least 27 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have enhanced liability protections for health care providers and medical facilities through legislation or via emergency executive orders since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged last March.
As with Missouri lawmakers, legislators in Nebraska, Montana, New Hampshire and North Dakota are considering broad business liability packages right now. Others are reviewing separate COVID-19 liability bills for businesses and health care providers.