The Covid-19 liability protection bill recently signed into law by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey was welcomed by business groups as offering common-sense protection for business owners.
We, too, welcome the change. The law, however, by no means offers blanket immunity from liability. Here are a couple of important nuances in the law that every business owner should keep in mind.
First, as expressly stated in the legislation, a person or provider that acts in good faith to protect a customer from injury cannot be held liable for civil damages. Following published public health guidelines, in other words, would protect your business from a lawsuit.
Moreover, a plaintiff would have to provide “clear and convincing” evidence, rather than merely a “preponderance” of evidence, if they hoped to prevail in a suit against a business that allegedly failed in its duty to protect its employees or customers.
On the other hand, no liability protection would extend to a business that acts with willful misconduct or gross negligence. In other words, ignoring state and federal public health officials could be risky business.
Senate Bill 1377, which was sponsored by Sen. Vince Leach, R-Saddlebrooke, applies not to just businesses but also to health care providers, schools, governments, nonprofits, churches and property owners.
“Arizona’s health care professionals and others on the front lines have worked day and night this last year to protect sick individuals and vulnerable populations,” Ducey said in a statement. “We have taken steps to protect both health care heroes and vulnerable Arizonans during the pandemic, and today’s legislation strengthens those protections.”
The healthcare world has, in fact, been bracing for a potential torrent of coronavirus-related negligence cases.
With more than 560,000 deaths in the United States alone, the lawsuits to come may focus on a range of purported wrongs beginning with delayed or missed COVID-19 diagnoses.
A glance at the latest figures in a COVID-19 Complaint Tracker, maintained by one of the nation’s larger law firms, reveals that, until now, Arizona ranks low relative to other states in terms of Covid-19 related lawsuits filed.
That’s good news. Arizona was far from being first to act to shield healthcare providers and other businesses from Covid-19 liability suits; more than 30 states have adopted similar laws.
None of these liability protection laws, however, give business owners carte blanche to do what they please.
The Mahoney Group, based in Mesa, Ariz., is one of the largest independent insurance and employee benefits brokerages in the nation. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-730-4920.
This article is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel or an insurance professional for appropriate advice.