Ohio Passes Covid-19 Legal Liability Protection
On Monday, September 14, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed House Bill 606 into law granting broad state-law immunity for Covid-19 related claims to a wide range of entities such as businesses and health care providers. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, there have been uncertainties surrounding legal liability of store owners, health care providers, and other businesses for transmission of Covid-19 to customers and employees.
The law, primarily sponsored by Diane Grendell of the 76th Ohio House District, mandates no civil action shall be brought against any person or health care provider for injury or death caused by exposure or transmission of the Covid-19 virus except in cases of significant breaches of duty of care. Broadly, the law legislatively precludes claims for Covid-19 related injury, death, or loss to person or property.
HB 606’s immunity protection applies to claims against persons and health care providers arising from acts, omissions, conduct, decisions, or compliance that took place during the period from March 9, 2020, ongoing through September 30, 2021.
Immunity is not available for claims arising out of reckless conduct, intentional misconduct, or willful wanton misconduct on behalf of a person whom the action is brought against. As written, protection under the law appears to be available in cases of simple and gross negligence.
The term “Person” is defined to have the same meaning as Section 1.59 of the Ohio Revised Code and includes:
- for-profit or nonprofit entities;
- governmental entities;
- religious entities;
- state institutions of higher education; and
- trusts, estates, and associations among other entities.
Under the law, no government order, recommendation, or guideline shall create or be construed as creating a duty of care upon any person for Covid-19 claims and no government order will be admissible as evidence that a duty of care, cause of action, or substantive legal right has been established.
The law’s immunity also applies broadly to health care providers who provide services in response to a disaster or emergency except in the case of reckless disregard, intentional misconduct or willful or wanton misconduct. It is notable that the healthcare provider immunity provision does not mention Covid-19 related claims, instead it applied to acts of health care providers taken during any emergency or disaster (defined in HB606 to include epidemics).
The health care provider immunity is limited to services rendered in response to a disaster or emergency, not services generally and does not apply to actions taken outside the skillset or training of the health care provider unless done in good faith under emergency circumstances.
Also of note, the law forbids class actions for Covid-19 or emergency or disaster related damages even in the case where immunity under the provisions is not available – such as in the case of reckless conduct, intentional misconduct, or willful wanton misconduct by persons and health care workers.
HB 606 provides broad immunity protections, however its application is currently untested and outcomes of legal actions under the new legislation are unknown. The law does not provide protection under federal law claims including employer duties under OSHA to provide a safe and healthful workplace that is free from serious recognized hazards. If you have questions related to these immunity issues, please contact one of the attorneys at Kohnen & Patton.