PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona House voted Monday to give businesses, nursing homes and others a broad shield from lawsuits related to COVID-19.
Republicans approved the measure in a 31-29 party-line vote, saying businesses struggled during the pandemic and shouldn't have to worry about the potential for frivolous lawsuits.
The measure is fiercely opposed by consumer advocates and lawyers, who say it will reward bad actors who flouted health guidance and endangered their workers or the public. They say there's been no deluge of COVID-19 lawsuits.
The measure goes back to the Senate, which has already approved it but must sign off on changes made in the House before it goes to Gov. Doug Ducey.
Business and medical interest groups have pushed hard for a liability shield since the start of the pandemic. The Arizona bill is one of dozens introduced across the country and in Congress.
“Trial lawyers are getting upset about this because they cant take things to litigation,” said Rep. David Cook, a Republican from Globe who voted for the measure.
During committee hearings on the bill, trial lawyers warned that the bill is so broad it would protect businesses from any lawsuit that they can claim is related to the pandemic, even if the link is distant.
Several Democratic lawmakers said the bill should have required businesses to follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“If you’re not keeping your workplace in compliance with CDC guidelines, you shouldn't’ get the benefits, the immunity from liability that this bill Is proposing,” said Rep. Randy Friese, a Tucson Democrat and a trauma surgeon.
The bill would raise the bar for winning a pandemic-related lawsuits against businesses, health care providers, nursing homes, nonprofits, governments, churches and schools. Instead of proving negligence by a preponderance of the evidence, plaintiffs would have to prove “gross negligence” or “willful misconduct” by clear and convincing evidence. That means plaintiffs would have to both show more egregious conduct and meet a higher standard of proof.