Arizona Legislature sends Ducey COVID-19 lawsuit protections

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Arizona lawmakers have sent Gov. Doug Ducey legislation they say protects the state’s business owners, hospitals and nursing homes from frivolous COVID-19 lawsuits.

The Arizona Senate gave final approval of Senate Bill 1377 on Tuesday and sent it to the governor.

If Ducey signs it, plaintiffs in liability lawsuits involving COVID-19 infections would have to prove the business was guilty of gross negligence or willful misconduct instead of only negligence. This represents a higher bar for trial lawyers to reach to win a case.

Consumer advocates claimed in committee hearings the bill would shield bad actors who flouted public health restrictions. Republicans, who passed the bill from the Senate without Democratic support, have said trial lawyers want to flood the courts with litigation that would make them money.

The bill says in the event the governor declares a public health emergency, a person or provider acting in good faith is not liable for damages “unless it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the person or provider failed to act or acted [with] willful misconduct or gross negligence.”

Ducey previously extended legal protections to first responders from similar lawsuits through Wednesday.

Supporters of the bill said lawmakers are right to support small business owners trying to recover from a pandemic.

“This is common-sense protection for Arizona’s mom-and-pop business owners,” said Chad Heinrich, Arizona state director for the National Federation of Independent Business. “If signed into law by the Governor, small business owners will breathe a huge sigh of relief knowing they will not be targets for trial lawyers looking for a quick buck.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation Monday that created a similar standard for COVID-19 liability lawsuits.

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