New Texas Law Shields Businesses From COVID-19 Liability

12 July 2021 Blog
Author(s): Jessica Glatzer Mason Michael F. Ryan
Published To: Coronavirus Resource Center:Back to Business Labor & Employment Law Perspectives

On June 14, 2021, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law SB 6, a bill granting retroactive civil liability protections for large and small businesses, and a variety of health care providers and first responders subjected to COVID-19-related injury and death lawsuits. SB 6 applies immediately to all legal actions commenced on or after March 13, 2020, for which a judgment has not already become final as of June 14, 2021, continuing until the current pandemic-related disaster declaration is terminated.

We have previously reported about various states that have offered businesses and employers protections for COVID-19-related injury and death lawsuits. Now Texas has extended similarly strong protections to large and small businesses, as well as to the many frontline health care workers who remain instrumental in combating the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Civil Liability Protections for Small and Large Businesses

SB 6 establishes a strong civil liability shield for businesses, regardless of size, against claims of injury or death from exposure to a pandemic disease – whether the person harmed is an employee or a third party on the business’ premises.

While the liability shield is broad, it is not absolute. A claim may still be brought for a pandemic-related injury or death in one of two scenarios:

(a) the business knowingly failed to warn the individual of, or fix, a condition within the business’ control, despite having a reasonable opportunity to do so, with the knowledge that the individual was more likely than not to come into contact with or be exposed to the pandemic disease, and the failure to warn or fix the condition was the cause in fact of the individual contracting the disease; or

(b) the business knowingly failed to implement, refused to comply with, or acted in flagrant disregard of the standards, guidance, or protocols put forth by the government that are intended to lower the likelihood of exposure to the pandemic disease, despite having a reasonable opportunity to do so, and this failure or refusal to comply was the cause in fact of the individual contracting the pandemic disease.

Given these exceptions to the civil liability shield, it is crucial for employers of all sizes to ensure they are aware of and in compliance with applicable governmental standards, guidance, and protocols concerning mitigation of exposure to COVID-19.

Civil Liability Protections for Physicians, Health Care Providers, and First Responders

SB 6 also extends particular protections to physicians, health care providers, and first responders defending against an injury or death lawsuit.  These practitioners can now claim immunity from suit if they show: (a) a pandemic disease or disaster declaration was a producing cause of the care, treatment, or failure to provide care or treatment that allegedly caused the injury or death; or (b) the individual who suffered injury or death was diagnosed with or reasonably suspected to be infected with a “pandemic disease” [e.g., COVID-19] at the time of the challenged care, treatment, or failure to provide care or treatment.

Even if this showing is made, however, immunity will not extend to a physician, health care provider, or first responder who is shown to have acted negligently, recklessly, intentionally, willfully, or wantonly to bring about the complained of harm. While the statute provides retroactive protection, there are strict timing requirements imposed. It is key to act promptly if you are currently involved in a suit relating to these issues, or become involved in a suit in the future.

This immunity will remain in effect for the duration of the period that Texas is subject to a “disaster declaration related to a pandemic disease” and for any similar disaster declarations in the future, whether announced by the president of the United States or the governor of Texas. This means SB 6, in addition to protecting frontline health care workers from COVID-19-related injury and death lawsuits, will also operate to provide future protections in the event of future pandemics.

Foley is here to help our clients effectively address the short-term and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on their business interests, operations, and objectives, and the “new normal” we find ourselves in today.

Foley provides insights and strategies across multiple industries and disciplines to provide timely perspective on the wide range of legal and business challenges that companies face conducting business while dealing with the impact of the coronavirus. Click here to stay up to date and ahead of the curve with our key publications addressing today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. To receive this content directly in your inbox, click here and submit the form.

This blog is made available by Foley & Lardner LLP (“Foley” or “the Firm”) for informational purposes only. It is not meant to convey the Firm’s legal position on behalf of any client, nor is it intended to convey specific legal advice. Any opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Foley & Lardner LLP, its partners, or its clients. Accordingly, do not act upon this information without seeking counsel from a licensed attorney. This blog is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Communicating with Foley through this website by email, blog post, or otherwise, does not create an attorney-client relationship for any legal matter. Therefore, any communication or material you transmit to Foley through this blog, whether by email, blog post or any other manner, will not be treated as confidential or proprietary. The information on this blog is published “AS IS” and is not guaranteed to be complete, accurate, and or up-to-date. Foley makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, as to the operation or content of the site. Foley expressly disclaims all other guarantees, warranties, conditions and representations of any kind, either express or implied, whether arising under any statute, law, commercial use or otherwise, including implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Foley or any of its partners, officers, employees, agents or affiliates be liable, directly or indirectly, under any theory of law (contract, tort, negligence or otherwise), to you or anyone else, for any claims, losses or damages, direct, indirect special, incidental, punitive or consequential, resulting from or occasioned by the creation, use of or reliance on this site (including information and other content) or any third party websites or the information, resources or material accessed through any such websites. In some jurisdictions, the contents of this blog may be considered Attorney Advertising. If applicable, please note that prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Photographs are for dramatization purposes only and may include models. Likenesses do not necessarily imply current client, partnership or employee status.

Related Services