Bill limiting coronavirus liability advances in Tennessee

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Rep. Charlie Baum, R-Murfreesboro, front left, and other House members sit behind glass partitions due to the coronavirus pandemic during a House session Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee would become the latest state to provide health care providers, schools and businesses broad protections against coronavirus lawsuits under a proposal gaining traction inside the GOP-dominant Statehouse.

House Republicans approved such a measure Tuesday despite objections from Democrats, who argued the bill was unnecessary.

A separate bill had already passed the Senate last week. However, the House’s version tweaked the proposal, which means now the two chambers must negotiate on a final version.

However, the concept is widely embraced by Republican Gov. Bill Lee and GOP lawmakers.

So far, a handful of states — including Arkansas, Louisiana and Utah — have adopted such limits through legislation or executive orders. Several more states are considering them as the Chamber of Commerce lobbies for national liability protections.

Supporters argue employers need assurance they can open their doors without facing a wave of litigation. Critics counter that employees already face a high barrier to receiving restitution from businesses that may place them at risk.

According to the House’s bill, qualifying businesses would not be liable for any “damages, injury or death” from allegedly contracting the coronavirus at their establishment unless the claimant can prove “gross negligence or willful misconduct” that the businesses did not properly comply with public health guidelines.

The bill also stipulates that anyone seeking to file a lawsuit must include a statement from at least one coronavirus expert who agrees there is a “good faith basis” to submit the claim

But unlike the Senate version, the bill would only take effect once signed into law. The Senate had included a retroactive element, but House members argued that doing so might not hold up in court.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and be fatal.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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