Persons who recover from COVID-19 are believed to develop immunity from further infection for some as-yet undetermined amount of time. On February 12, the Alabama Legislature created (and Governor Kay Ivey signed) a more certain form of immunity protecting businesses and other organizations from lawsuits that blame them for illness from the virus. The new law provides general immunity to businesses, schools, and nonprofits as well as more comprehensive protection for healthcare providers.
Who Is Covered
Alabama’s new general immunity law protects businesses (including nonprofits and the self-employed), churches, schools, governments, cultural institutions, and the employees of all the entities. The healthcare immunity provision applies to both institutions (e.g., hospitals and clinics) and individual providers (any licensed healthcare professional).
What New Law Protects
The new law protects the covered entities from civil liability for health emergency allegations, including any COVID-19-related claims (e.g., charges related to exposure to the virus or failure to prevent exposure). One exception occurs, however, if the entity caused the injury by wanton, reckless, willful, or intentional misconduct. But mere negligence, such as the failure to provide personal protective equipment (PPE), wouldn’t be enough.
In addition, the new law provides immunity to healthcare providers even if the alleged damages or injuries weren’t directly related to COVID-19. That is, they would be covered if their provision of the services was negatively affected by a lack of resources caused by or was done in response to the pandemic.
Although employers are still covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s (OSH Act) requirement to provide employees with a safe workplace, Alabama’s new immunity law reduces the potential risk and legal headache from COVID-19-related claims. “While the impact of [the virus] has been felt across the country and around the world, we remain committed to helping Alabamians and Alabama businesses get back on their feet and our state moving forward,” Governor Ivey said in a press release.