A bill that would protect businesses from being sued if they inadvertently spread COVID-19 passed in the state Senate. Opponents believe it’s too broad.
“It is an effort to make sure that businesses have the confidence to start serving customers again and customers have the understanding that they have a decision to make when going to patronize a business,” said the bill’s author, Senator Julie Daniels (R) Bartlesville.
Senate Bill 1946 protects businesses from lawsuits if customers contract COVID-19 shopping or doing business there, as long as the businesses try to follow guidelines set up by the CDC, OSHA and the Department of Health.
“The immunity applies in any situation in your business where a customer, client or patron might allege that they came in contact with COVID,” Daniels said.
Opponents fear the bill is worded poorly and gives businesses too much protection.
“For the people in Guymon who were infected at the mat processing plant, if this bill were passed would it affect their ability to file for workers compensation benefits?” Senator Michael Brooks (D) Oklahoma City asked.
“This has to do with business premises or business customers, but it does not speak to that employer employee relationship,” Daniels responded.
“If workers comp actions are civil actions what would prevent an insurance company from being able to exert complete immunity?” Brooks asked.
“I don’t have an answer for that,” Daniels replied.
Backers said this bill would give business owners the ability to reopen without fear of being sued.
“I believe it’s crucial that we take action now otherwise businesses are going to be very reluctant to reopen and that is going to further damage our economy,” Daniels said.
“Never let an emergency go to waste. And I fear that we’re doing a knee-jerk reaction in response to trying to do the good thing,” Senator Brent Howard (R) Altus replied.
The bill now goes to the State House of Representatives.