Businesses and health care providers would be protected from liability related to the state of emergency created by COVID-19 under legislation proposed by Gov. Mike Parson on Thursday.
Parson said the first provision protects health care workers who provide the care necessary to respond to a declared state of emergency.
The second provision includes protection for product liability for “any individual who designs, manufactures, labels, sells, distributes, or donates products in direct response to a declared state of emergency.”
The third provision protects premises liability in cases of exposure connected to a state of emergency.
The proposed legislation would not be limited to the pandemic, but would also apply in future declarations of emergency.
Parson said he believes these protections should be put in place as Missouri hospitals, health care providers, manufacturers, businesses, schools among others have altered their practices and operations to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“None of these groups should be penalized for their efforts to respond to a declared state of emergency,” Parson said. “They must be able to continue operating and serving the public without risk of unnecessary and frivolous claims.”
Brett Emison, past president of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, released a statement saying that lawmakers should create legislation that limits the spread of COVID-19 rather than protecting businesses that have failed to follow health guidelines.
“Despite the increases in COVID infections, the governor has called a special legislative session with the express purpose of protecting businesses and employers who wrongfully and negligently spread the disease to employees and customers,” Emison said.
Similarly, Lenny Jones, vice president of SEIU Healthcare Missouri/Kansas, released a statement saying that the organization is opposed to Parson’s legislative proposal.
“SEIU Healthcare Missouri/Kansas, on behalf of our 4,500 members and all healthcare workers, is strongly opposed to proposals that would grant immunity to the operators and owners of nursing homes and medical centers during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Jones also said, “It is essential that health care providers remain responsible for any negligent actions to ensure that workers, residents, and patients have some protection and opportunity for redress.”
“For our economy to fully reopen and for jobs to return, the public must be safe to engage with businesses,” Emison said. “If businesses and employers are no longer responsible when they fail to follow recommended health and safety guidelines, how can employees and customers feel safe?,” Emison said. “If no one is accountable, no one is safe.”
House minority leader Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, also opposed the proposal.
“Over and over, Gov. Parson has stressed the need for personal responsibility in fighting COVID-19,” she wrote. “But for businesses that negligently put their employees and customers at risk, he doesn’t want them to have to take any responsibility at all.”
Quade said that providing protections for businesses that take the necessary steps to keep people safe might be warranted, “a blanket exemption that also shields bad actors from legal liability will encourage reckless behavior and make a crisis that already has spun out of control far worse.”