A new liability protection law makes Georgia the youngest and most populous state protecting businesses and other organizations from potential litigation over Covid-19 exposure.

Governor Brian Kemp (R) signed Law SB 359 late Wednesday to limit liability claims by customers, employees or members of the public who contract or are exposed to the virus. The new law came into force immediately and expires in July 2021. It applies largely to claims against companies, nonprofits, and individuals, and particularly protects healthcare providers.

Like similar laws passed in seven other states, the new Georgia law allows liability claims to be successful only in cases where the company or other organization has shown gross negligence or similar disregard for health and safety standards.

The limitations of liability apply “if you essentially stick to the rules” for safe business operations, said Senator Chuck Hufstetler (R), one of the sponsors of the Georgian legislation. “I thought that was a fair compromise.”

The measure will take effect as soon as the debate in Congress intensifies over federal liability protection, which could override state efforts.

Senate GOP leadership unveiled a bill on July 27 that will convert coronavirus-related claims into employer-friendly federal litigation, while also providing a safe haven for companies against various types of employment claims if they can prove they are in General health and safety follow guidelines.

Looking for a nationwide counterpart

The liability proposal is an important sticking point in the negotiations on additional Covid-19 aid laws between the Senate and the House of Representatives, in which the Democratic leaders spoke out against granting corporate liability protection.

Republican attorneys general from 22 states praised the liability limits put in place by states like Georgia, but urged leaders of Congress to pass statewide law limiting liability for Covid-19 in a letter sent Wednesday.

“As you probably know, states across the country have taken steps to address the need for timely, targeted and temporary protection of civil liability in the face of the pandemic, but the need for a unified national basis for liability protection remains,” the group wrote AGs led by Chris Carr from Georgia and Sean Reyes from Utah.

Whether at the state or federal level, liability limitation proposals have been lauded by business leaders, who say they are critical to reopening and revitalizing the economy during the pandemic. Advocates of workers and consumers are now claiming that the proposals will allow companies free access to safety precautions.

No bar suitable

The government proposals generally provide a defense against liability claims, but do not spare companies the need to defend themselves in court to show that they were not grossly negligent.

Georgia joins Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming in issuing virus-related limitations of liability that apply generally to most or all companies. A number of other states have narrow liability protections for healthcare providers and / or providers of personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, and hand sanitizers.

Lawmakers in several other states are considering liability protection proposals, including Nevada, where similar laws are on the agenda of a week-long special session that began July 31st. Likewise, Ohio has passed a law limiting liability by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, but with big differences in the language that would have to be reconciled before it could go to the governor.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee (R) on Monday called for a special session beginning August 10 and included corporate liability restrictions as the first item on the agenda. The Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Vice-Governor, who presides over the Senate, both spoke out in favor of a Liability Protection Act.

Idaho state lawmakers have also proposed a special session to work out a liability protection bill, in part at the request of school systems feared the liability risk of schools reopening in the coming weeks.