Ohio state bill would shield businesses, health care providers from COVID-19-related lawsuits

Updated: May. 13, 2020 at 4:46 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - New state legislation could shield businesses and health care providers from lawsuits related to the pandemic.

Lawmakers behind the bill said it will protect businesses and health care providers from overwhelming litigation.

But opponents said it authorizes unsafe conduct.

19 Investigates spoke to a nursing home advocate who said if the bill passes, there will be no accountability and protection for people who need it the most.

Senate bill 308 was just introduced last week.

The bill says businesses and health care providers won't be liable for illnesses or deaths from their actions during a "declared disaster."

According to the bill, you would have to prove harm was intentional, not just reckless.

Sen. Matt Huffman (R- Lima) authored the bill, and there are four other cosponsors.

19 News spoke to State Senator Kristina Roegner (R- Hudson) over the phone, one of the cosponsors.

“One thing I think that some businesses might be worried about is if they were to open and this weren't in place and someone were to go to their shop or whatever and a few days later, come down sick, would they be sued? This bill would provide them some of that cover and protection,” she said.

This bill would be retroactive, kicking in when the disaster was declared and lasting 180 days after the emergency ends.

“The legislative intent to this is to provide toward action immunity, to folks that are trying to do the job to the best of their ability, whether it's the healthcare industry or in retail,” Roegner said.

19 Investigates found about 30 organizations support the bill, from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce to the Ohio Hospital Association.

Paula Mueller, founder of Elderly Advocates, is against the bill.

She said it's moving forward so quickly, they weren't able to testify against it today.

“I thought, this is going to encourage poor care, absolutely. Because we're not talking about life or death situations with this COVID crisis, we're talking they can just be reckless. They cannot feed somebody, they cannot give somebody water. They can intentionally do something, and not be held responsible,” she said.

Mueller said this protects nursing homes far more than their residents.

“There’s more concern over economic impact and nursing homes going out of business, over the safety and well-being of residents,” she said.

Mueller worries our elderly and their families will be left without any recourse against nursing homes if something goes very wrong.

“There's such a high level to prove that something's wrong, a wrongful act was done, that it's very hard already to prove it. So now we're going to give them an extra layer of protection? It doesn't seem right to me,” she said.

Mueller is starting a task force to fight the bill. She’s reaching out to family members of nursing home residents.

“I urge them to write their senators, and let them know that this is not fair or right, and this will promote poor care,” she said.

19 Investigates asked Sen. Roegner to respond to Mueller’s concerns.

“Nothing in here is intended at all to provide cover for anyone that would cause harm or death to anybody else, absolutely not,” she said.

“We’re in this together Ohio, certainly we take the pandemic and the illnesses very seriously,” Roegner said.

“But at the same time, we also need to balance keeping our economy going.”

We spoke to local nursing home abuse attorney William Eadie of Eadie Hill Trial Lawyers to get his reaction to the bill.

Eadie said this bill "protects bad guys, not businesses” and it's a "green light for unsafe, unsanitary behavior."

He said if it passes, it will “authorize unsafe conduct and mismanagement of nursing home facilities.”

Senate bill 308 must pass through committee before it heads to a vote in the Senate and over to the House.

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