Indiana Senate committee advances COVID-19 legal immunity bill

State lawmakers have advanced a bill that would protect individuals and businesses from COVID-19-related lawsuits.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday afternoon passed Senate Bill 1 to the Senate floor for consideration.

The bill, authored by Republicans Mark Messmer of Jasper, Eric Koch of Bedford and Liz Brown of Fort Wayne, would shield businesses and individuals from coronavirus civil liability lawsuits unless there was gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct that could be proven with “clear and convincing evidence.”

The bill would specifically protect individuals, associations, institutions, corporations, companies, trusts, limited liability companies, partnerships, political subdivisions, government entities and “any other organization or entity.”

It would not affect worker’s compensation claims.

The legislation would be retroactive to March 1 and in effect through Dec. 31, 2024.

Initially, the bill did not include language to shield businesses that produced pandemic-related materials, such as personal protective equipment, but committee members amended the legislation and added that element before passing it on Wednesday.

During a hearing earlier this month on the bill, nearly all of the individuals who testified were in favor of it. Some of the supporters who testified included the Indiana Apartment Association, Indiana Builders Association, Eli Lilly and Co., Purdue University, Indy Chamber, Indiana Manufacturers Association, Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association, Indiana School Boards Association, Indiana chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Indiana Hospital Association.

Business owners have cited concerns, for example, that someone who was in a grocery store could test positive for COVID-19 days later and try to sue that store to pay medical expenses—even if the business required masks and there was no proof regarding where the person contracted the virus.

Companies say defending against such suits would be a costly burden, even if they were baseless and ultimately dismissed.

The Indiana AFL-CIO is opposed to the bill.

Coronavirus immunity legislation is a top priority this year for GOP lawmakers and business organizations. It is also on Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s legislative agenda.

A similar version of the legislation is also moving in the House. The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on House Bill 1002 on Tuesday, but the committee did not vote on the bill.

HB 1002 is authored by Republican Jerry Torr of Carmel.

The House bill defines a protected entity as an individual, corporation, health care provider, an approved post-secondary educational institution, political subdivision, limited liability company, partnership, other legal entity or any business or organization referenced in a list elsewhere in state code.

The House bill has a shorter effective period—being retroactive to March 1 and in effect through Jan. 1, 2022.

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