New Law Protects Indiana Businesses from COVID Liability

In February of 2021, the Indiana State Legislature passed Senate Bill 1, providing protections to businesses from civil liability arising out of COVID-19 related damages. Governor Holcomb signed the bill into law on February 18, stating that the bill was a top priority of his Next Level Agenda to recover the state economy. Governor Holcomb sought to provide protection to businesses from so-called “frivolous” lawsuits, since many businesses have had to adapt to unforeseen circumstances in these unprecedented times. However, the law is quite broad, and has been subject to criticism for impacts that may reach beyond the intended rationale behind the legislation.  

What This Law Does

The new law protects individuals and businesses, including nursing homes, from COVID-19 related liability, unless there is gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct. The new legislation applies to activity beginning March 1, 2020. The immunity protections will remain in effect until December 31, 2024.

The legislation further protects manufacturers of COVID-19 protective products from civil tort liability. This includes manufacturers of personal protective equipment, medical devices, medications, tests, and cleaning products. The law prevents these companies from being the target of class-action lawsuits  arising from COVID-19 related tort damages.

In short, businesses are protected from lawsuits due to COVID-19 related injuries unless plaintiffs can meet an increased burden of proof. To succeed in bringing a claim, potential lawsuits would need to allege and establish gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct. Lawmakers hope this protects businesses from financially crippling legal battles while attempting to recover from the pandemic.

Criticism of the Law

Many opponents of the law believe that the protections are too broad. They believe the sweeping language of the bill provides protection from even non-COVID-related injury and allows businesses like nursing homes to reduce their standard of care without fear of consequences.

A primary goal of the bill was to prevent frivolous lawsuits. However, some law professors believe that immunities do not accomplish this goal. Instead, they may prevent legitimate cases from being filed while protecting bad actors who endanger others.

Additional criticism of the new law is that the immunity may provide broad protection beyond COVID-19 damages, including from long-standing problems that were present before the pandemic. This is of particular concern when considering nursing homes, and considering the protection extends so far into the future.

Infection control and staffing shortages were problems in these facilities before the COVID-19 pandemic. Indiana ranked 48th in the nation for staffing, based on how much time nurses and nursing aids spend with residents. When there is not enough staff to care for all residents, residents can become neglected. Almost 75% of nursing homes in the state have also been cited for infection control failures in the last 3 years. This new law may provide protection to nursing homes that have not corrected past mistakes.

Businesses May Still Be Vulnerable

While the new law is broad, there are some topics the law does not address. The protections in the new legislation shield businesses from the general public, but do not outline what these protections mean in employment settings. It also doesn’t prevent action by Indiana’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Workers can still file claims against their employer under IOSHA’s general duty clause. Most likely, employees would not have to meet the higher standard for proof outlined in the new law.

Personal injury claims are more difficult under the new law, but they only apply to COVID-19 related injuries. Individuals still maintain the right to file civil lawsuits for personal injury not related to COVID-19 and would not need to meet the higher standard of proof required by this new law. 

Your Indianapolis Personal Injury Lawyers

While the passing of Senate Bill 1 may have broad impacts in Indiana, it doesn’t eliminate your rights. If you or a loved one have been injured due to a business’s negligence, you need a skilled personal injury attorney at your side.

Talk with the Indianapolis personal injury lawyers at Wagner Reese today. We will listen to your case with an empathetic ear and offer guidance on navigating this new law. We have a strong track record of protecting our clients’ rights and have won millions of dollars in compensation for our clients. At Wagner Reese, we’re here to help you. Contact us today to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation.