Legislature Sends COVID Liability Protection Bill to Governor

After several months of legislative inactivity, the Council and our business association colleagues were successful at convincing the Ohio General Assembly to pass legislation to provide protection for businesses against lawsuits alleging exposure to and/or contraction of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

House Bill 606 originally passed the House on May 28, 2020, at which time an unexpected and unnecessary floor amendment was added providing workers’ compensation coverage for COVID-19 for first responders, corrections officers and grocery store and convenience store employees with the presumption that they contracted the virus in the course of employment. Currently the law places the burden on the employee to prove that an injury or illness is employment-related. With strong opposition from the business community, the Senate removed the controversial amendment prior to passing the bill on June 30, 2020.

Over the summer break, scandal erupted, and as a result, the former Speaker was deposed and Bob Cupp of Lima, a former state Senator and Ohio Supreme Court Justice, was elected Speaker. Speaker Cupp was quick to meet with us to discuss the importance of liability protection legislation and he gave us his commitment to pass it.

Yesterday, the House refused to accept Senate amendments so that they could then recess for the purpose of a joint House-Senate conference committee with the purpose of extending the liability protections from a December 31, 2020 end date to September 30, 2021. Within a few hours, the conference committee made the change on a 4-2 party line vote and sent their report back to the respective chambers. Returning from recess, the House accepted the conference report by a vote of 62-30. Today, the Senate voted 22-8 to also accept it. The final version of House Bill 606 now goes to the Governor for his expected signature, becoming effective 90 days thereafter.

For the nearly ten months that the law will be in effect, businesses, health care providers, and non-profit and not-for-profit entities will be protected against civil actions for injury, death or loss of person or property related to the exposure to or contraction of coronavirus. These protections do not apply if the employer acted with reckless disregard of the consequences or displayed intentional, willful or wanton misconduct.

If you have any questions about House Bill 606, please e-mail Lora Miller at loram@ohioretailmerchants.com or call 614-221-7833.