Phase Two is here in earnest with more businesses open and many more making plans to open in the near future. As we have seen with the recent hotspots in the Capital Region and around the country, COVID-19 is still here and can cause issues for businesses reopening. The Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, three bills providing state protection from lawsuits involving injury from COVID-19. These bills provide business owners with a sense of security from an ever-evolving health emergency. BRAC has supported these efforts from their inception and worked tirelessly to see them become law.
Protections for General Business and Government Agencies
BRAC worked together with LABI and other partners to develop and drive through the most significant bill on this issue, HB 826 by Rep. Thomas Pressly, R-Shreveport. HB 826 provides the most sweeping protections for businesses, government agencies, trade show organizers, and event planners from lawsuits for civil damages for injuries or death related to COVID-19 exposure unless the plaintiff can prove “gross negligence or willful misconduct” by the business. Because the bill includes coverage for government agencies, the law also protects school systems reopening, alleviating a local concern voiced by Superintendents as they consider how and when schools will reopen in the Capital Region.
Protections for the Restaurant Industry
The protection bills also include one supporting the restaurant industry, which provided invaluable service during the Stay at Home orders. SB 508 by Sen. Patrick McMath, R-Covington, provides the same limitation of liability as HB 826, but specifically to restaurant owners and their employees as long as their actions were “in substantial compliance” with state, federal, or local regulations health and safety regulations. The guidelines during this emergency changed quickly and often, and restaurants strove to keep up and keep operating. With the industry still struggling, this protection will provide much-needed comfort, allowing restaurant owners to focus on rebuilding their businesses, and restaurant employees to work without fear of lawsuit.
Protections for Donations and Pivoting Businesses
Rounding out the package is HB 491 by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell. This bill protects people and businesses who donate recovery services or products and those selling disaster aid “outside of the typical course and scope of their operations.” This bill is for those businesses that started producing hand sanitizer, masks, or other products that became necessities during the height of the outbreak. Countless businesses across Louisiana stepped into this role, whether they were coffee filter manufacturers that started making hospital gowns, breweries that bottled up isopropyl alcohol for hand sanitizer, or non-profit organizations that sewed and distributed masks. Hewitt’s protections do not cover just COVID-19 but continue during any future declared state of emergency in Louisiana.
Louisiana is ahead of the curve on this issue. The U.S. Chamber called for similar protections on the federal level months ago. Senate Republicans have said they would make the issue a priority in the next piece of COVID-19 legislation, but nothing has been finalized and language is still being debated behind the scenes. Louisiana’s lawmakers should be applauded for taking the needed steps to help businesses reopen.