Ohio governor Mike DeWine signed Law HB 606 on Monday, September 16, 2020. Known as the Good Samaritan Expansion Bill, the law protects private and public employers from civil claims for damages for COVID-19 exposure, except in cases of reckless or wanton exposure. In the relevant part, the new law reads:
SECTION 2. (A) No civil action for damages shall be brought against any person on whom the civil action is based, in whole or in part, for injury, death or loss of any person or property Transmission or contraction of MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV or SARS-CoV-2 or caused by a mutation thereof, unless it is proven that the exposure or transmission or contraction of these viruses or mutations was caused by reckless behavior or willful intent Misconduct or willful misconduct by the person against whom the lawsuit is being brought.
HB 606. The law also clarifies that if the government issues orders, recommendations and guidelines on COVID-19, none of these actions can create a new cause of action or impose a duty of care on individuals based on the content of government guidelines. In particular, the law also prohibits COVID-19-based class actions.
(B) Any government order, recommendation or policy shall not create a duty of care for any person nor be construed as enforcing in a cause of action or creating a new cause of action or substantive legal right against any person in relation to the person in the Matters contained in government ordinance, recommendation or directive. There is a presumption that such an official order, recommendation or directive is not admissible as evidence that a duty of care, a new cause of action or a substantive law has been established.
(C) If the immunity described in Section (A) of this Section does not apply, no class action lawsuit will be brought against any person who is liable for damages for injury, death, or loss of any person or property belonging to any person in that Department.
The law recognizes many of the unique challenges Ohio companies face in reopening their economy. The law is designed to protect Ohio companies who are afraid of tort if they reopen, and it covers many issues that companies may be concerned about, including:
- The law discusses the numerous COVID-19 lawsuits across the country and aims to prevent such lawsuits against Ohio companies.
- The law also refers to the frequently changing prevention recommendations, such as the CDC's initial position that masks were ineffective versus the current recommendation that masks be encouraged. The law addresses the concerns that such changing recommendations can raise by ensuring that government orders, recommendations, and guidelines, such as the CDC example, do not create criminal liability.
- The law also mentions that in the past, business owners were not required to prevent members of the public from being exposed to viruses, bacteria and aerial germs. This goes on to state that, now, as in the past, individuals have a responsibility to decide for themselves what actions they must take to avoid such exposure. The law is designed to reassure businesses that even though these are unprecedented times, individuals are still keeping to themselves a due diligence that they cannot pass on to business owners.
The law applies retrospectively to the date of the Governor's Executive Order 2020-01D, which was enacted on March 9, 2020, declaring a state of emergency due to COVID-19. It will remain in force until September 30, 2021. Ohio companies should be able to focus on the needs of their businesses, employees, and customers without worrying unduly about lawsuits in the event of an unfortunate second COVID-19 outbreak.