With the pandemic continuing into the next year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law SB 6 on June 14, 2021. The bill grants retroactive civil liability protections for large and small businesses, and a variety of healthcare providers and first responders who may be subjected to COVID-19 related injury and death lawsuits. Additionally, SB 6 will apply to all legal actions commenced on or after March 13, 2020, for which a judgment has not already become final as of June 14, 2021, and will continue until the pandemic disaster declaration is terminated.
Many states have implemented these protections to businesses and employers for COVID-19 related injury and death lawsuits. Texas adds itself to this list and extended protections to frontline responders and healthcare workers who remain extremely vital in the ongoing fight against the pandemic.
Civil Liability Protections for Small and Large Businesses
SB 6 establishes strong civil liability protections for businesses of all sizes, against claims of injury or death from exposure to the coronavirus. These protections are in place whether the person is an employee or a third party on the business’ premises.
Although the shield of protection is broad, it does not provide absolute protection. A claim can still be made for a pandemic related injury or death in two ways:
- The business knowingly failed to warn the individual of, or fix, a condition in the business’ control, despite having the opportunity to do so with the knowledge that the individual was more likely than not to come into contact with or be exposed to the pandemic disease, and the failure to warn or fix the condition was the cause of the individual contracting the disease.
- The business knowingly failed to implement, refused to comply with, or acted in flagrant disregard of the standards, guidance, or protocols put forth by the government that is intended to lower the likelihood of exposure to the pandemic disease, despite having a reasonable opportunity to do so, and this refusal to comply was the cause of the individual contracting the disease.
These exceptions to the civil liability shield make it crucial for employers of all businesses to ensure that they are aware of and in compliance with governmental standards, guidance, and protocols concerning mitigation of exposure to COVID-19.
Civil Liability Protection for Physicians, Health Care Providers, and First Responders
SB 6 also extends protection to physicians, healthcare providers, and first responders defending against an injury or death lawsuit. These individuals can now show immunity from a suit if they show: a pandemic disease or disaster declaration was a producing cause of the care, treatment, or failure to provide care or treatment that allegedly caused the injury or death; or the individual who suffered injury or death was diagnosed with or reasonably suspected to be infected with a “pandemic disease” [ex. COVID-19] at the time of the challenged care, treatment, or failure to provide care or treatment.
However, even if this showing is made, immunity will not extend to a physician, health care provider, or first responder who can be proved to have acted negligently, recklessly, intentionally, or willfully, to bring about the complaint of harm. The statute provides very strict protections, but there are rigid timing requirements that have been implemented as well. If you are currently involved in a suit regarding these issues or become involved in a suit in the future, it is important that you act quickly.
The immunity provided by SB 6 will remain in effect during which Texas is under a “disaster declaration related to a pandemic disease” and will be used for any future pandemics that may arise.