ST. PAUL — A Minnesota Senate panel on Thursday, March 4, opted to set aside, for now, a proposal that would limit liability for businesses and manufacturers that operated amid the pandemic after attorneys warned it could protect bad actors.
The bill was written at the request of Minnesota's business community, as members worried that an onslaught of civil lawsuits could bear down once the state started turning the corner on COVID-19.
The proposal would offer protections for companies that pivoted to make masks and face shields or that donated hand sanitizer and those that kept their doors open during the pandemic. And it would also exempt business owners from civil suits if someone contracted COVID-19 in their store, restaurant or business if they were following state guidelines around mitigation.
Business owners would be under no requirement to flag potential risks of contracting COVID-19 on their premises and would only be liable civil action if someone contracted the disease there after employees acted in an "intentional, willful and wanton, or reckless manner."
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said the proposal was intended to safeguard businesses that had taken steps to follow Minnesota's executive orders around COVID-19 from frivolous lawsuits.
“This bill is intended to be a corporate-style good Samaritan law,” Limmer said.
But Limmer requested to set the bill aside for additional work after other lawmakers and lawyers told the committee that it could protect businesses that had intentionally put out defective products or opened store or restaurant settings that failed to take mitigation measures.
"Senate File 745 is unlike any other bill in the country. This is the most extreme and expansive and blatant effort to eliminate our constitutional rights," Joel Carlson, chief lobbyist for the Minnesota Association for Justice, said. "This is the worst bill in the country and it should not become law."
Across the country, states have weighed steps to stave off COVID-19 related civil suits against businesses and roughly half, along with the District of Columbia, have approved policies.
Association leaders representing grocers, small business owners and others urged legislators to work on a proposal that could find support this year so that they wouldn't face financial and time burdens from possible lawsuits.
“We are not asking you to protect bad actors and those businesses who were grossly negligent," Jamie Pfuhl, president of the Minnesota Grocers Association, said, "rather we’re asking that the liability protections are provided to those businesses that took responsible measures to stop the spread of the virus during the COVID-19 national emergency."