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LB139 could protect Nebraska businesses from COVID-related lawsuits
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LB139 could protect Nebraska businesses from COVID-related lawsuits

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Legislation introduced by state Sen. Tom Briese of Albion could help protect businesses from lawsuits as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 Liability Protection Act, LB139, would provide general safe harbor and premises liability protections on potential COVID-19 lawsuits for a range of individuals and organizations open to the public, provided that they follow public health guidance.

Cindy Johnson, president of the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce, said the 2021 legislative session is dominated by COVID-19 and the numerous effects the pandemic has had on individuals, families, health care, businesses, and state and local governments.

Johnson said one specific area of concern to the business community is the threat of unwarranted lawsuits against businesses, schools and health care providers.

She said Briese’s bill would include medical and other health care providers, first responders, medical facilities, schools, restaurants, retail establishments, general business operations open to the public, churches, senior care facilities and individual citizens.

In reference to the additional protections for health care workers, Johnson said that Briese notes, “the last thing our hometown heroes need is to worry about being sued for canceling an elective procedure or an accidental exposure when they were doing the right thing all along.”

LB139 would:

– Bar lawsuits unless someone was hospitalized or died from the coronavirus.

– Prohibit lawsuits against entities that were following federal and state laws or public health orders and guidance.

– Not allow a lawsuit unless an entity had acted with gross negligence or willful misconduct rather than ordinary negligence.

– Raise the standard of proof, making it harder for people bringing lawsuits to prove that they had been hurt because of gross negligence or willful misconduct.

Johnson said that if someone wanted to sue for damages due to COVID-19, they would need to prove gross negligence or willful misconduct with clear and convincing evidence.

“This is a much higher standard than current law,” she said.

Johnson said many liability insurance plans are not structured to accommodate large-scale legal exposure.

“Existing liability insurance laws leave all public entities vulnerable to lawsuits — they do not consider a scale for pandemics such as COVID-19,” she said.

With the pandemic upon us now for more than a year, the economic consequences have been hard on the community, which lost considerable revenue from businesses being closed or limited in services because of the health guidelines issued as a result of the virus, along with the loss of revenue to hotels, restaurants, retail and other services caused by the virus. Many events that draw visitors from across the state to Grand Island, such as the Nebraska State Fair and Husker Harvest Days, were either canceled or pared down due to the virus.

“When it comes to the chamber’s role in business advocacy, we focus on the issues, rather than individuals, and business priorities, rather than partisan politics,” Johnson said.

She said it is important for the chamber, which represents more than 700 businesses in Grand Island, to understand what is important to its members.

“We focus on business needs and the issues that business cares about,” Johnson said.

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