(The Center Square) – Lawmakers heard testimony on a package of bills Tuesday that aims to grant businesses and colleges immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits if those institutions follow basic safety protocols.
Rep. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, sponsored the first bill.
“I believe the bill package will help speed up Michigan’s economic recovery,” Albert said. “I think it will protect workers from being forced to work in unsafe conditions. I think it will eliminate frivolous lawsuits that could bankrupt universities and businesses.”
Rep. Tommy Brann, R-Wyoming, the owner of Brann’s Steakhouse and Grille, supported the bills, explaining that one of his employees went on unemployment, citing fear of contracting COVID-19, but later went to a party.
“How in the world am I, or any business owner trying to do the right thing – [temperature] checks, masks, washing hands – supposed to know where an employee gets this virus?” Brann asked.
Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, also a restaurant owner, opposed the bill, saying businesses should face liability for employees.
LaGrand said he’s not worried about frivolous lawsuits and called it an often “overblown concern.”
He added: “If I get sued, that’s what my insurance is for.”
The bill still allows for businesses to be sued if they act under “gross negligence.”
Wendy Block, vice president of business advocacy at the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, warned that COVID-19 lawsuits could be “the final nail in the coffin” for many businesses.
“This legislation is about protecting job providers and others who follow the rules, telling them that if they take reasonable steps to follow public health guidelines, they will be protected from a baseless lawsuit,” Block said.
Block claimed this would incentivize compliance with safety guidelines.
One bill would also limit liability for manufacturers that pivoted production to make personal protective equipment.
Over 19 business groups back the bills with a handful opposing them, including the Michigan Association for Justice (MAJ)
MAJ President Donna Mackenzie told Michigan Public Radio the bills aren’t needed because businesses already have protection against frivolous lawsuits.
“It is very difficult to prove something called ‘causation,’ and that is something your business did that caused your patron to get coronavirus,” she said. “That is a very difficult burden of proof that already exists under our law.”