Arizona Governor signs bill shielding businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits

The Arizona Senate voted March 30 to give businesses, nursing homes and others a broad shield from lawsuits related to COVID-19, joining the House in approving the measure and on April 5, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed it into law.

Senate Republicans approved the measure in a 16-14 party-line vote. GOP House members approved it on a 31-29 vote with no Democratic support. Republicans said businesses struggled during the pandemic and shouldn’t have to worry about the potential for frivolous lawsuits

The law is fiercely opposed by consumer advocates and lawyers, who say it will reward bad actors who flouted health guidance and endangered their workers or the public. They say there’s been no deluge of COVID-19 lawsuits.

Business and medical interest groups have pushed hard for a liability shield since the start of the pandemic. The Arizona bill is one of dozens introduced across the country and in Congress.

Ducey called for the measure in his State of the State address in January.

The bill would raise the bar for winning pandemic-related lawsuits against businesses, health care providers, nursing homes, nonprofits, governments, churches and schools. Instead of proving negligence by a preponderance of the evidence, plaintiffs would have to prove "gross negligence" or "willful misconduct" by clear and convincing evidence.

Dana Kennedy from AARP says she understands the need for the bill, however, they were concerned about long-term care facilities from being included especially as they were the hardest hit during the pandemic.

Kennedy explains, "We worked really hard to get an amendment into the bill, to carve them out of the bill, because we know 70% of the deaths happened in the skilled nursing facilities. I spoke with many families who were concerned about the care their family members were receiving and we know some facilities had their workers come into work when they were having signs of COVID, so we didn't think we needed to add an additional burden of proof to the families to prove neglect or abuse."

The bill will go into effect sometime this summer.

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