The Iowa legislature recently passed a major piece of legislation, COVID-19 liability reform. Iowa’s economy is reopening, and social distancing and other hygienic practices continue to slow the spread of the virus. As Iowans beginning to reengage with the economy and other public institutions there remains an element of risk of catching COVID-19. The objective of COVID-19 liability protection is to protect businesses, health care facilities, schools, churches, among other institutions to limit “frivolous or opportunistic lawsuits” as a result of the virus.
The liability protection is not just meant to protect businesses that are reopening, but also those “essential” businesses and health care facilities that remained open during the COVID-19 triggered economic shutdown. The legislation passed creates the following protections:
- Provides liability protections in response to COVID-19 emergency.
- Requires actual injury for civil action.
- Limits the liability of premises owner.
- Safe harbor for compliance with regulations, executive orders, or public health guidance.
- Limits the liability of health care providers.
- Limits the liability on products produced and used in response to COVID-19.
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) argues “as businesses begin to reopen, rehire and rebuild, owners should not live in fear of frivolous lawsuits that could harm or even close their business.” COVID-19 is still an uncertain situation, but what is evident is that Iowa’s economy must continue its path of reopening.
The COVID-19 liability protection does not excuse businesses or other institutions from not following health guidelines. The legislation uses a reckless standard, which means a business or other institution may be “liable for damages when it knew or should have known that its conduct would likely cause significant harm to others.”
“If you're an employer or a premises operator or health care professional, and you did your best to keep your people and your property safe based on the public health guidance and best practices at the time, you're OK, and you should not have the threat of litigation hanging over your head,” stated Senator Zach Whiting (R-Spirit Lake), who was the floor manager of the bill in the Senate.
COVID-19 liability reform will protect businesses, health care workers, and other institutions from frivolous lawsuits as a result of the pandemic.