Bill shielding businesses from COVID lawsuits becomes law

Published 6:01 am Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Kentucky’s governor stood aside and let a bill become law that protects an array of businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits. But he warned Monday that the measure is likely to draw a court challenge.

The measure, backed by business interests, became law this past weekend without Gov. Andy Beshear’s signature. A veto would have killed the bill since the legislative session has ended.

The Democratic governor pointed to the efforts of Republican House Speaker David Osborne to allay concerns about the bill as a reason he allowed it to become law.

“He actively worked with those that would have typically opposed this type of law and significantly narrowed it,” Beshear said at a news conference.

Beshear, a former state attorney general, said that despite the last-minute changes, the new law is likely to be challenged on constitutional issues.

“Now do I think there will be a court challenge? Yes. Do I think the law now could be potentially thrown out in a court

challenge? Yes. But I do believe, especially on the House side, there was a real effort to hear voices on both sides and to try to get the law into a better place. And I did want to recognize that, knowing the rest of this will ultimately play out in the court system,” Beshear said.

The bill’s lead sponsor was Republican Senate President Robert Stivers. The measure was in limbo for weeks but a pared-down version cleared the GOP-led legislature shortly before this year’s session ended. That version aims to protect businesses from lawsuits that claim someone contracted COVID-19 while at their place of business, so long as the business tried to follow guidelines.

Those protections wouldn’t apply if businesses engaged in practices deemed as grossly negligent or as willful or intentional misconduct.

During legislative debate, supporters said the liability protections are crucial for businesses looking to recover from losses caused by the pandemic. The bill’s opponents portrayed the liability shield as an overreach that would interfere with constitutional protections on access to the courts.