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Governor Holcomb Signs COVID-19 Civil Liability Protections Bill Into Law

Indiana joined several other states in the country to protect businesses and other institutions from most COVID-19 lawsuits. While one small business advocacy group breathed a sigh of relief as Gov. Eric Holcomb signed the measure Thursday, some Hoosiers are concerned.

Senate Bill 1 requires an individual wanting to file a lawsuit to show evidence of gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct. The legislation will shield certain groups from most COVID-19 lawsuits.

Several groups advocated heavily for the legislation including health care providers, schools and businesses. All urged protections from what they called financially harmful legal action.

Holcomb said in a statement the legislation will prevent “frivolous lawsuits” and help in the state’s recovery from the pandemic. He said he believes most Hoosier businesses and organizations have been doing the best they can to protect their employees and customers.

Barbara Quandt is the Indiana director with the National Federation of Independent Business. She said more than 97 percent of the organization's members wanted this legislation passed.

“2020 was the worst year for anyone who’s been in a small business,” said Quandt. “And to have a worry that someone’s gonna come in and potentially sue you and the cost of fighting that lawsuit could potentially put you out of business; even if you are absolutely in the right.”

Quandt said the organization still has other bills it is advocating for this session, including a small business restart grant program and business personal property tax exemption.

While advocates for COVID-19 civil liability protections raised concerns of cases being filed all over the country, there has yet to be one filed in Indiana.

The bill raised concerns by some lawmakers that it will give too much protection to long-term care providers and prevent families from suing nursing homes for the treatment of their loved ones during the pandemic.

Fred Schultz is president of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association. He said his group remained neutral to the bill, but does not believe it is necessary.

“We believe immunities actually hurt communities, don’t help them because again, immunities provide protections for bad actors,” said Schultz. “Because, you know, it’s not the frivolous lawsuits that are banned by immunities, it’s the ones where people really got hurt.”

He said he expects there will be cases that deserve to be heard, but are turned away with the new law.

The law will be retroactive, effective the beginning of March 2020 and continuing through 2024.

This story has been updated.

Contact reporter Samantha at shorton@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @SamHorton5.