Wednesday (8/12/2020), the Tennessee State House and Senate both passed the Tennessee COVID-19 Recovery Act (SB 8002/HB 8001) which protects businesses from unfounded legal claims. The effort has been a primary focus of the statewide Chamber and Tennessee’s business and manufacturing community since the pandemic created the threat of unsupported COVID-19 liability claims. Legislative leaders in both the Senate and House have noted since the start of the special session on Aug. 10 that liability protections are a major priority to ensure Tennessee’s economic recovery.
“This is a tremendous win for Tennessee’s economy as businesses strive to put people back to work and save families from greater economic hardship,” said Bradley Jackson, President & CEO of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry. “Governor Lee, Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally, House Speaker Cameron Sexton and members of the General Assembly showed tremendous leadership and sound commitment to the business community to restore our state’s economy and businesses confidence.”
Since June, the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry has worked with a broad coalition of business and industry, trade associations, education, nonprofits, and the healthcare sector, that collectively employ approximately 2 million Tennesseans in support of this legislation. These entities have been crucial in providing essential services and goods for Tennesseans throughout the pandemic. As Governor Bill Lee has gradually led Tennessee’s businesses through a phased reopening, businesses have been encouraged to sign on to the Tennessee Pledge, a plan created in consultation with business leaders throughout the state to help businesses reopen in a safe environment, restore their livelihoods and reboot the state’s economy.
According to a report, 771,274 Tennesseans have filed for first-time unemployment benefits since March 15. Of those, 224,093 have filed weekly certifications to continue their claims as of Aug. 1. According to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the statewide unemployment rate for June 2020 was 9.7 percent.
“So many businesses have been devastated by this pandemic. Research shows that two-thirds (67%) of small businesses are worried about coronavirus-related lawsuits. Liability protections are one of the most crucial things that can be done for businesses right now,” according to Jackson. “Swift economic recovery cannot occur unless unfair legal exposure is mitigated and businesses have certainty that their efforts to safeguard their employees and customers is acknowledged by the General Assembly and the courts. The Tennessee COVID-19 Recovery Act provides these assurances, while maintaining fair recourse when there is gross negligence or willful misconduct. The broad-based legislation also provides protections for schools, churches, nonprofits and manufacturers who have donated or shifted operations to make PPE when asked to do so by elected leaders. The Tennessee business community is proud to see leadership from the General Assembly and Governor Bill Lee that demonstrates that our state is serious about keeping business and industry strong.”
On Wednesday, Aug. 12, the Tennessee COVID-19 Recovery Act passed both the House and Senate. Under this act, a covered entity will not be liable for any damages, injury, or death that results from a health emergency claim if the covered entity did not act with gross negligence or willful misconduct and substantially complied with applicable public health guidance.
In May 2020, the Tennessee Chamber led a group of industry and trade groups in sending a letter to Governor Bill Lee expressing concerns over rising numbers of COVID-19-related lawsuits throughout the country. The Chamber and its co-signers indicated that a number of businesses across every industry were concerned with the possibility of being the subject of such a lawsuit, despite taking action to adhere to the Tennessee Pledge and follow public health guidelines for safe reopenings.