Tennessee lawmakers recently approved legislation to protect businesses, schools and nonprofits from coronavirus-based lawsuits as the state continues to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Tennessee House and Senate each approved separate versions of the bill, meaning the two chambers must agree on a compromise before the legislation heads to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk.
Rep. Michael Curcio, R-Dickson, is the primary sponsor for the House version of the bill and said its intended to protect businesses, schools and nonprofits from frivolous lawsuits at the state continues to reopen under Lee’s Tennessee Pledge guidelines.
The legislation protects qualifying businesses from liability if someone contracts the coronavirus at their establishment unless the accuser can prove the businesses acted in “gross negligence or willful misconduct” while not complying with the Tennessee Pledge, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or other public health guidelines.
“Simply put, we’re trying to protect innocent people from frivolous lawsuits, while making sure that those who act negligently or willfully and put people at risk can still be prosecuted in the state of Tennessee,” Curcio said.
Curcio said the legislation would not force businesses to follow Lee’s guidelines but gives businesses additional protection if they follow the guidelines.
“It’s not hard to imagine a bad actor being able to make any sort of claim to say, ‘Well, I came into your place of business and because you weren’t doing something I perceived to make me feel safer, you must of put me at risk and that must be how I got the virus,’” Curcio said. “That’s not enough from where we look at. We don’t want to open everybody up to a simple negligence claim.”
Rep. Clark Boyd, R-Lebanon, supported the legislation and joined Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, in voting for the legislation.
“Since COVID showed up in Tennessee, we have heard from our constituents. As we started opening the state back up, we’ve heard from them, as well. The common thread that I’m hearing from business owners, nonprofit leaders, religious leaders and healthcare workers is that they want some protection from frivolous litigation,” Boyd said.
Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, voted in favor of the Senate version of the bill, which differs from the House version due to a retroactive component, which House members said could be a major hurdle to overcome in courts. The House version would take effect once signed into law.
The bill also mandates anyone seeking to file a lawsuit must get a written statement from at least one COVID-19 expert or doctor who agrees there is a valid basis to make the claim.