State Senator Mark Messmer (R-Jasper) says his bill to protect Hoosiers from potential COVID-19 related lawsuits stems from concerns from business owners in the early days of the pandemic. Senate Bill 1 would provide employers and individuals with immunity from civil liability for damages if someone is exposed to the virus on their property or during an activity they organized. “They just fear the potential for a civil suit could put any company out of business and especially a small entrepreneur, mom-and-pop-type business.”
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Messmer said the bill is designed to cover a variety of potential needs for individuals, small businesses, and nonprofits.
“We heard from business leaders all across the state from April, May, June, July…concerns from business leaders about potential exposure if they’re considered a necessity to be open and doing their best to comply with CDC guidelines,” said Messmer. “Even if they would win a suit, they could quickly run out of resources trying to defend a civil suit.”
Messmer’s office says the bill’s protections would not cover the employer or individual if their actions “contribute gross negligence or willful misconduct.”
“I don’t anticipate a large number of cases like this, but it’s important we prepare and protect factories, local shops, restaurants, houses of worship and other organizations so Hoosiers can maintain their jobs and our economy can continue to recover,” Messmer said.
Messmer’s office says there are no confirmed lawsuits of this nature in Indiana at this time, and the bill would act as a precautionary measure.
The Indiana AFL-CIO announced its opposition to the bill, and a similar bill filed in the Indiana House.
“The bottom line is that these immunity bills will make it much harder for workers or customers or nursing home?patients to bring actions to recover for alleged exposure to the virus,” the organization said in a statement. ” But this is really not the major problem that businesses are painting it to be. Even under a less strict, plain negligence standard, it is difficult to bring such a claim and be successful and there just have not been many such actions brought across the country—so there is not a need for such immunity. It would be refreshing to see our state leaders prioritize the care of Hoosiers during the current pandemic and economic crisis rather than go on the defense to protect profits as a first priority this legislative session.”
Senate Bill 1 is being heard today by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
State Senator Mark Messmer discusses the reasoning behind Senate Bill 1 and the need for protection against potential civil lawsuits.