(AUSTIN – TEXAS CIVIL JUSTICE LEAGUE)
Efforts to extend liability protections to health care providers, businesses, schools, churches, and other entities received a huge boost tonight when Governor Greg Abbott declared the pandemic liability protection an emergency item and one of his top legislative priorities for the 87th Legislature. The Governor’s emergency declaration means that the legislation, soon to be filed in the Texas Senate by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills), may receive expedited consideration of the Legislature within the first 60 days of the legislative session.
“We are deeply grateful to Governor Abbott for designating this legislation as an emergency and for speeding relief to Texas health care providers and businesses struggling with the consequences of the pandemic,” said Carol Sims, TCJL Executive Director. “Governor Abbott has provided decisive leadership since the onset of the crisis. He has made the tough decisions that had to be made, but has never lost sight of the crucial importance to the people of Texas of keeping the economy open to the greatest possible extent. This legislation will bring much-needed assurance that our health care providers and businesses will not face potentially ruinous litigation while they are getting back on their feet.”
In general, the legislation proposes to raise the standard of liability during the duration of the declared emergency for COVID-19, which commenced on March 13, 2020. For health care providers, the emergency room standard of care in current law would be extended to all health care services, regardless of the setting, in which the availability or delivery of care has been impacted by the pandemic. Similarly, businesses that made a good faith effort to comply with appropriate government guidance for mitigating the spread of the disease would not be liable if a person contracted COVID-19 on the premises of the business. The same standard would apply to manufacturers, sellers, and users of products, medicines, vaccines, and other items used to treat, mitigate, or prevent the spread of the disease.
“The timing of the Governor’s emergency designation could not be more critical,” said George Christian, TCJL Senior Counsel. “Unfortunately, no one knows when the pandemic emergency will end, and we simply cannot afford to keep our health care providers and businesses in legal limbo for an indefinite period of time. The more quickly the Legislature can act and get this bill to the Governor’s desk, the better it will be for the health care workers taking care of us and the businesses trying to provide the jobs and goods and services that we all need.”