On February 12, 2021, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed into law Act No. 2021-4, which provides a partial shield from liability related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The purpose of the Act is to encourage Alabama businesses to reopen or remain open by “providing a safe harbor to businesses that operate reasonably consistent with applicable public health guidance.” To achieve this goal, the Act limits civil liability related to COVID-19 for certain “covered entities,” as well as individuals associated with the covered entities. The covered entities include businesses, healthcare providers, schools, churches, governmental entities, and cultural institutions.
The Act shields covered entities from liability based on “actual, alleged or feared exposure to or contraction of” COVID-19 unless the plaintiff can produce “clear and convincing evidence” that the entity acted with wanton, reckless, willful or intentional conduct in failing to comply with then applicable healthcare or governmental guidance. Even in those limited circumstances establishing liability, the Act limits recovery (except in wrongful death claims) and states “in no event shall the covered entity be liable for noneconomic or punitive damages.” The Act also contains a two year statute of limitations and provides that the Act does not affect claims for benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act.
Alabama is not alone in its efforts to provide specific COVID-19 protection for businesses, health care providers, educational entities, governmental entities, and persons associated with those entities. In fact, other states, including Georgia, Kansas, and Michigan, have also recently enacted similar laws that provide businesses with limited protections from COVID-19 claims. States are particularly concerned with providing civil immunity as a reasonable protection to help businesses remain open and reopen.
It is important that businesses frequently monitor the states in which they conduct business to determine if similar laws are enacted.