West Virginia Senate Passes Bill Eliminating Pandemic-Related Liabilities
The West Virginia Senate has passed a bill that would eliminate liabilities related to the coronavirus pandemic, including claims made against businesses, individuals and health care providers. Members of the upper chamber voted 25-9 Friday to send the bill to the House of Delegates after rejecting two amendments to the measure.
Senate Bill 277, the Creating COVID-19 Jobs Protection Act, would allow no claims to be made against businesses, individuals or health care providers for “loss, damage, physical injury, or death arising from COVID-19.” The bill would be made retroactive to Jan. 1, 2020.
Before lawmakers voted on the bill, Sen. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, offered two amendments.
The first proposed change would have allowed for lawsuits to be filed against “any person, or any employee or agent thereof, who acts with actual malice or a conscious, reckless, and outrageous indifference to the health, safety, and welfare of others.”
In a floor speech, Lindsay mentioned that zero civil liability cases have been filed in the state of West Virginia to date.
He also noted reports that Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been under scrutiny for moving coronavirus patients into a nursing home, which resulted in more than 1,000 deaths.
“The way the bill is constructed, it gives blanket immunity to not only good actors — which are the people we want to protect — but bad actors,” said Lindsay, noting that West Virginia’s law would protect incidents such as the one involving Cuomo. “And so this amendment would say those who engage in actual malice or reckless indifference would not have the luxury of immunity.”
Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan, spoke against the amendment.
“The fundamental purpose of the bill, Mr. President, is to preempt and prevent gobs and gobs of litigation regarding COVID lawsuits that could be directed at any person,” Trump said. “‘You know, it's your fault that I got COVID, or it's your fault that my uncle got COVID.’”
Lindsay’s first amendment was rejected on a voice vote.
Lindsay’s second proposed amendment would have terminated the effect of Senate Bill 277 upon the state of emergency related to the coronavirus pandemic being rescinded. The proposed change was also rejected on a voice vote.
Following the discussion of Lindsay’s amendments, senators debated the Senate Bill 277 in its entirety.
Many Democrats, including Mike Romano, D-Harrison, stood in opposition to the measure based on the rejection of Lindsay’s first amendment which attempted to make exceptions for reckless and malicious behavior.
“There's been seven states that have adopted COVID immunity. Three states require good faith compliance with all of the guidelines that are set forth by their state or local government,” Romano said. “We didn't come close to that. But yet we're gonna allow intentional conduct to receive the benefit of immunity.”
But Trump argued that such an all-encompassing immunity from liability is needed to protect businesses and individuals in the state.
“I'll concede that we are creating liability protections that are very broad and dissimilar to what we have in other areas of the law,” Trump said. “But Mr. President, this is a global pandemic — and it requires extraordinary measures and responses in a lot of different ways.”
Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, and Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, joined Republicans in supporting the measure.
Senate Bill 277 now heads to the House of Delegates for consideration.