The General Assembly is again poised to deliver a common sense request from Pennsylvania’s businesses, health care providers, and others by passing a limited and specific liability shield against opportunistic trial lawyers looking to exploit the pandemic as a business opportunity.
This week, the House approved “safe harbor” legislation that would protect businesses, health care providers, schools, and other institutions from civil action if they followed federal and state health protocols for limiting the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The measure, HB 605, is based on legislation sent to Gov. Tom Wolf last year, which he vetoed claiming in part that its protections were too broad. In reaction, proponents of the legislation have repeatedly stressed several key points about the bill: the protections are temporary; intended to reassure businesses who have acted in good faith during the pandemic that follow all federal and state health mandates; and that the bill offers no protection for any entity that causes deliberate harm or engages in gross negligence. Senate action is expected soon on the legislation.
PMA President & CEO David N. Taylor praised lawmakers for again voting to protect businesses and health care providers, especially those instrumental in helping us through the crisis.
“Throughout this pandemic, the private sector has done what it does best – respond, innovate, and overcome,” Taylor wrote, along with PMA’s Vice President of Government Affairs Carl A. Marrara, in a letter of support sent to lawmakers. “...You have an opportunity to protect the manufacturers that have re-tooled to meet the dire need for personal protective equipment and the medical professionals who are on the front lines caring for COVID-19 patients.”
Sponsor of the bill, Rep. Torren Ecker (R-Adams/Cumberland), noted that 26 states and the District of Columbia have enacted similar protective legislation.
“This is a commonsense approach that won’t tie up our legal system, hamper business growth and stifle our economy even more,” Ecker said in a statement released after passage of the bill.
Last year, the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) published a white paper advising states to enact liability shields, warning that some personal injury lawyers view those exposed to the virus as a, “large new pool of plaintiffs, and health care providers and businesses that aid in the response effort or provide essential services as defendants to cast blame.”
“States should proactively adopt legislation that distinguishes legitimate claims from no-injury lawsuits,” ATRA wrote in “Responding to the Coming Lawsuit Surge: Policy Prescriptions for Addressing COVID-19 Tort Litigation.” “States can place reasonable constraints on the types of lawsuits that pose an obstacle to the coronavirus response effort, place businesses in jeopardy, and further damage the economy.”
Speaking on a recent episode of PMA Perspective, House Judiciary Chair Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin) noted that both red and blue states have approved Safe Harbor legislation.
“Other states with similar demographics to Pennsylvania have approved this legislation,” Kauffman said. “It’s time for us to come together as a team and move Pennsylvania forward.”
Case in point, the legislation has the backing of a widely diverse group that includes small businesses, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, childcare centers, universities, colleges, farms, and local governments.
“One of the biggest champions of liability protection is Little League Baseball and they are a huge economic driver in the Williamsport,” Senate Judiciary Chair Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) said on PMA Perspective. “We are not protecting bad actors with this legislation, but it’s desperately needed as we rebuild Pennsylvania.”
Finally, Curt Schroder, Executive Director of the PA Coalition for Civil Justice Reform said that the legislation will help Pennsylvania businesses, health care providers, and others to focus on recovery.
“Opportunistic lawsuits and the constant threat of being sued only serve to hinder recovery,” Schroder said. “Our frontline heroes and providers of goods and services who have sacrificed for us through the pandemic must not be victimized by those seeking to profit off the pandemic.”