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Ohio Senate committee debates bill to protect businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits

Robert Wagoner, president of the Ohio Association for Justice, said while most businesses will adhere to guidelines, some may use immunity to act in an unsafe manner.
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Ohio Statehouse 11062019
Ohio Statehouse in Columbus (Getty Images)

COLUMBUS — Business groups on Wednesday spoke in support of a proposed bill that would give protection from lawsuits filed against businesses that reopen in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Bill 308 is sponsored by state Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima. The bill is pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee and is supported by various industries, including the hospitality sector.

According to Andrew Geisler, a legal fellow at The Buckeye Institute, in prepared testimony, the bill, if passed, “ensures that Ohio businesses taking reasonable precautions against the spread of COVID-19 can begin to reopen without fearing virus-related lawsuits and liability.”  

Geisler added: “Lawsuits and the threat of lawsuits alleging virus exposure will further strain our dormant economy as it moves toward recovery.”

Robert Wagoner, president of the Ohio Association for Justice, said while most businesses will adhere to guidelines, some may use immunity to act in an unsafe manner.

“The message we send to any business by providing them with immunity is, ‘We want you to act safely, but we will not hold you responsible if you don’t,’” Wagoner said in prepared testimony.

“For those businesses conducting safe practices, immunity will place them at a competitive disadvantage to competitor businesses who are not acting safely,” Wagoner added. “What do we say to the businesses who are doing everything right when it comes to safe practices as they watch competitors cut safety corners to conduct business more productively at the expense of people’s safety? Why would we allow that?”

One of the bill's supporters, Joe Savarise, executive director of the Ohio Hotel & Lodging Association, said in prepared testimony, “Our owners, operators and associates are understandably concerned about the threat of liability, even though they have always followed some of the strictest standards and protocols for cleaning and sanitization, and have taken steps to increase those practices in response to current challenges.

“To allow our economy to recover, it will be critical to protect businesses from lawsuits related to the exposure of contraction of an illness in environments that are taking these responsible measures,” Savarise added.

Cory Fleming, director of legislative and political affairs for the Ohio Credit Union League, also advocated for passing the bill. SB 308 “will extend helpful protections for those serving Ohioans during and after the pandemic, maintaining the focus on the state’s economic recovery efforts,” Fleming said.

— Story courtesy of The Center Square.




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