On September 14, 2020, Governor Mike DeWine signed House Bill 606. HB 606 temporarily provides legal immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits to businesses, health-care workers, and schools. HB 606 will take effect December 13, 2020, however the limited immunity will apply to actions arising between the date of the Governor’s Executive Order 2020-01D, issued March 9, 2020, through September 30, 2021.
The purpose of HB 606 is to maintain consistency with the Governor’s previous goals of protecting Ohioans from the virus while attempting to protect the local economy. The novel aspect of the coronavirus and the evolving methods of treatment and containment have created a concern of increased litigation resulting from a health care provider, business or school from unknowingly spreading the virus.
HB 606 provides immunity from tort liability and professional discipline to specified health care providers for services provided during a disaster or emergency that result in injury, death or loss allegedly resulting the action, omission or decision in the provision, withholding or withdrawal of those services. Further, HB 606 grants immunity when the services follow an executive order or director order. Additionally, HB 606 grants immunity from tort liability and professional discipline when a health care worker was unable to treat a person due to the inability to perform an elective procedure due to an executive, director, or local health department order in relation to an epidemic or pandemic. However, the tort immunity does specifically exclude conduct that constitutes a reckless disregard of the consequences or intentional or willful or wanton misconduct. The immunity from professional disciplinary action excludes conduct that constitutes gross negligence. It should be noted that the immunity does not create a new cause of action or substantive legal right against a health care provider or affect an immunities or responsibilities of a health care provider. Further, if the immunity does not apply, no class action can be brought against a health care provider for the conduct undertaken during a disaster or emergency.
HB 606 also generally prevents bringing a civil action for injury death, or loss to person or property against any person if the cause of action is based wholly or in part to the exposure or transmission or contraction of various coronaviruses or their mutations. Of note, the definition of “person” in this section includes a school, a for-profit or nonprofit entity, a governmental entity, a religious entity or a state institution of higher education. However, this immunity does not apply if it is established that the exposure to or the transmission or contraction of any of the viruses or mutations was by reckless conduct, intentional misconduct, willful or wanton misconduct of the person against whom the action is brought. Similar to the provisions regarding health care providers, if the general immunity does not apply, no class action can be brought against any person alleging liability for damages for injury, death, or loss to person or property based on the specified cause of action. Further HB 606 states that a government order, recommendation or guideline does not create a duty of care on a person that may be enforced in a cause of action or that may create a new cause of action or substantive right against any person regarding the matters in the government order recommendation or guideline.
It should also be noted that prior versions of HB 606 included a presumption for health care workers that contracted COVID-19 as an occupational disease in a workers’ compensation claim. This provision was removed, so claims for an injury or occupational disease related to virus exposure remain unchanged.