Alabama governor signs bill to provide immunity from COVID-19 claims
On February 12, 2021, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed a bill to provide immunity from lawsuits related to COVID-19. The Alabama Senate passed the bill on February 4. The Alabama House of Representatives passed the bill on February 11. We have found no changes that the House made to the Senate version of the bill. Formerly known as Senate Bill 30, it is now Alabama Act 2021-4 as a result of the governor’s signature and went into effect as soon as the governor signed the bill.
The act provides legal protection for two broad classes: (1) various organizations and (2) healthcare providers.
The act first grants immunity to businesses, educational entities, churches, governmental entities, and cultural institutions. It also protects the employees, managers, and owners of these organizations. This means that virtually any business—from a restaurant to a factory or a shoe store—is covered by this act.
Second, the act grants immunity to healthcare providers—doctors, dentists, and their employees—as well as the following:
- Independent clinical laboratories.
- Rehabilitation centers.
- Ambulatory surgical treatment facilities.
- Hemodialysis providers.
- Abortion clinics.
- Long-term care facilities, such as assisted living facilities or nursing homes.
- Mental-health facilities.
Both classes are provided immunity from injuries or deaths related to acts or omissions involving COVID-19. The immunity is generally very broad, but there are two exceptions related to (1) failure to follow public health guidelines and (2) wanton, reckless, willful, or intentional acts.
If any covered entity (this could be a convenience store or a doctor’s office) does not reasonably attempt to comply with applicable public health guidelines, that entity may not have immunity under the act. This clearly means that a covered entity that did nothing to comply with public health guidelines will not be immune.
If a claimant or employee can show that his or her injury was caused by wanton, reckless, willful, or intentional acts, that entity may not have immunity. Some examples might be an entity affirmatively refusing to require employees to wear masks where they are otherwise required by law, refusing to recognize quarantine rules for staff and thus allowing infected individuals to work, or perhaps allowing customers to disregard well-disseminated public safety guidance either by not wearing required masks or by allowing large gatherings without appropriate social distancing.
In other words, while the immunity act is broad and will be extremely helpful to businesses, it is not carte blanche to ignore the existence of a global pandemic. Businesses still must take appropriate precautions to protect the public; and if they do, the legislature’s suggestion is that they should not have liability for transmission, which we all recognize is very difficult to avoid even in the best of scenarios.
But even if an event is shown to be wanton, reckless, willful, or intentional, but doesn’t result in serious physical injury, a court can award a claimant only actual compensatory damages. The claimant can’t be awarded money for noneconomic damages or punitive damages.
In the case of wrongful death, the act provides that a court can award only punitive damages, a requirement that is in line with current Alabama law about wrongful death lawsuits.
The act applies to lawsuits involving COVID-19 even when the events occurred before the act becomes law.
Section 9 of the act provides that it does not affect claims under the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act.
As always, our summary of this act is general in nature and shouldn’t be used instead of referring to the act itself or instead of consulting an attorney about the unique issues that be may involved in your circumstances.
Items on this web page are general in nature. They cannot—and should not—replace consultation with a competent legal professional. Nothing on this web page should be considered rendering legal advice.