LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A divided Michigan House voted Wednesday to shield health providers and businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits filed by patients, employees or customers, advancing bills that majority Republicans said would give businesses more comfort to reopen and block frivolous complaints.
Opponents have said the measures would make it too tough for negligence victims to sue. Many Democrats voted against the business-backed legislation, which was sent to the GOP-led Senate for debate.
It would protect employers from liability if a worker is exposed to the COVID-19 virus during Michigan's emergency despite the employer having substantially complied with health rules, retroactive to Jan. 1. Immunity would not apply if an employer willfully disregarded the regulations.
“This is a balanced approach on COVID liability that will not in any way protect bad actors,” said a sponsor, Republican Rep. Thomas Albert of Lowell, who added that it would safeguard infected employees from retribution. “Job providers need to know what safety protocols are expected of them, and they deserve some reassurance that they will not be sued if they are taking necessary safety precautions.”
Other bills would:
— retroactively shield hospitals, doctors and other providers from suits covering services between March 10 and July 14 unless there was willful misconduct, gross negligence, intentional misconduct or intentional infliction of harm. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed such a measure in August, though it was broader. It would have extended the immunity through 2020 and applied to future emergencies.
— require people to meet minimum requirements to sue for exposure to the coronavirus and apply retroactively to Jan. 1. They would be required to test positive and be hospitalized for at least 24 hours or be so ill that they could not engage in their usual activities for at least 14 days. A death also would qualify.
— protect the makers of personal protective equipment, medications, COVID-19 tests, disinfectants and cleaning supplies from product-liability claims unless they knew of a defect.
— prevent infected employees from reporting to work and bar employers from taking “adverse employment action” against them. Whitmer has issued an order with similar prohibitions.
Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said Michigan law already says people taking reasonable care to protect workers and customers cannot be held liable in court. Most businesses are “doing the right thing,” she said.
“Instead of passing this legislation, which is a solution in search of a problem, the Legislature should be focused on helping our businesses implement health and safety standards to keep their employees and customers safe," Brown said.
While House Democrats generally opposed all but the bill related to worker protections, they did not speak out against the legislation before the vote. In testimony submitted this month, the Negligence Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan said some of the measures would make it “unreasonably difficult” for victims to sue and would lower the duty of employers and business owners to protect employees and customers from exposure to the virus.
Another bill sponsor, Republican Rep. Tommy Brann of Wyoming, owns several restaurants.
“Passage of this legislation is about survival of family business,” he said.
Additional Coronavirus information and resources:
Click here for a page with resources including a COVID-19 overview from the CDC, details on cases in Michigan, a timeline of Governor Gretchen Whitmer's orders since the outbreak, coronavirus' impact on Southeast Michigan, and links to more information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC and the WHO.
View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.
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