by Beau Evans, Capitol Beat News Service
Georgia hospitals and businesses are set to gain new liability protections amid the COVID-19 pandemic through legislation Gov. Brian Kemp signed this week.
A bill Kemp signed into law Wednesday aims to shield businesses and health-care facilities in Georgia from lawsuits brought by people who contract coronavirus in all but the worst negligence or recklessness cases.
The liability protections take effect immediately and will apply for anyone who contracts coronavirus until July 14, 2021.
Business representatives including the Georgia Chamber of Commerce have hailed the measure as a means for a range of enterprises from mom-and-pop shops to sports stadiums to feel assured they will not face crippling litigation due to coronavirus.
But unions and worker advocates have worried employees in the state will be left in the lurch as thousands of Georgia’s front-line and low-wage workers struggle to keep themselves safe from the virus either in the workplace or the courts.
COVID-19 liability protections were a contentious source of last-minute debate in the Georgia General Assembly as state lawmakers wrapped up the 2020 legislative session in late June.
Democratic lawmakers condemned the measure, joining union representatives in calls for more safety considerations to help workers.
Conversely, many Republican lawmakers in the state Senate argued the bill would be too weak to fully protect businesses and hospitals by making “gross negligence” the minimum threshold for bringing a damage claim.
That threshold marked a compromise between health-care professionals, business leaders and trial attorneys struck during the final days of the session. Attorneys on both sides of the issue have described gross negligence as a high legal hurdle but not impossible to meet.
The session, which was paused in March as coronavirus cases soared, also saw passage of a tax credit program for businesses that produce protective gear like masks and hand sanitizer and an extension of expanded state unemployment benefits in place since March.