Texas lawmakers have proposed state legislation that would shield a wide range of businesses and organizations from what backers warn could be a rash of lawsuits tied to Covid-19.
Senate Bill 6, introduced by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, and supported by several Texas legislators, including state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, would offer protection from certain claims arising from the current pandemic, as well as those tied to future pandemic-related disasters or emergencies.
Proponents believe the legislation, if passed, will provide employers necessary relief.
“Businesses do not need any further distractions or impediments after the challenges of the past year,” Cubeta Law Group partner Kelli Cubeta said. “Unfortunately, the excitement of returning to pre-Covid operations is dampened by the fear of frivolous lawsuits.”
The Texas Civil Justice League, which has formed a pandemic liability task force, supports the proposed legislation, saying it will extend broad protections from Covid-related liability lawsuits to health care providers, certain product manufacturers, businesses, schools, universities and churches, among others.
The TCJL is concerned that “the uncertainty surrounding liability exposure in the current environment will impede our economic recovery, adversely impact the health care system and make it harder for our schools and universities to bring students back to campus,” said Lisa Kaufman, the organization’s general counsel.
The bill also seeks to protect certain nonprofits and individuals who have attempted to follow applicable governmental standards, guidelines or protocols with respect to minimizing the spread of the novel coronavirus. That could include protection for higher educational institutions from potential liabilities such as lawsuits for tuition reimbursement because in-person classes were canceled due to Covid-19.
Local legal experts said the proposed legislation would not prevent lawsuits in cases where plaintiffs can prove, for example, reckless or willful misconduct or malice.
“Business owners want to protect their employees and customers, but it is impossible to eliminate risks of Covid exposure,” Cubeta said. “Senate Bill 6 will give business owners, schools, first responders and the health care providers the confidence to continue — and even expand — their operations as our communities move toward returning to pre-Covid levels of activity.”
As of press time, SB 6 had been referred to the Texas Senate’s Business and Commerce Committee. A similar bill has been proposed in the Texas House of Representatives.