The Texas legislature is getting at least one thing right this session! Texas lawmakers last week reviewed a bill that will provide expanded liability protection to businesses, schools, healthcare facilities and first responders against lawsuits arising from COVID-19-related claims of illness, discrimination, or wrongful termination. The bill, sponsored in the house as HB 3659, would allow defendants, absent proof of a defendants’ actual malice or reckless and intentional conduct, to obtain dismissal of certain lawsuits after proving the pandemic was a producing cause of the alleged injury. If passed, the bill as currently drafted could retroactively apply to lawsuits filed since Governor Abbott declared the pandemic a state disaster on March 13, 2020. The full Texas Senate approved S.B. 6, an identical bill, 29-1 on April 8.
What does that mean for Texans?
Employers and businesses would be protected from lawsuits alleging exposure to the COVID-19 virus unless the plaintiff can establish that the employer or business knowingly failed to warn him/her of or remediate the dangerous condition, or if the employer or business knowingly failed to implement and comply with the various state, federal, and CDC initiatives to lower the risk of contracting COVID-19.
Although well supported, these bills do have some detractors, including arguments that nursing homes should be exempt from the expanded liability protection due to fears that nursing homes could exploit the new bill to further escape liability for what many have seen as woefully inadequate care of elderly patients over the last year.
Do We Need COVID-19 Lawsuit Protection?
According to Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP data tracker, 699 COVID-19-related lawsuits have been filed in Texas since the beginning of the pandemic. The largest group of those cases look to fall under the labor and employment category. Stopping the coming tide of employee litigation is good for Texas employers, which in turn is good for Texas, especially given the free healthcare and extended unemployment benefits which have been extended to Texas employees affected by the virus.
© Karen Ensley and Brian Benitez, Ensley Benitez Law, PC, 2021. All rights reserved. This article is provided for educational reasons exclusively and is not meant to be construed as legal advice. Ensley Benitez Law, PC, will represent you only after being retained and that agreement is made in writing.