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Utah Legislature Approves Bill to Protect Businesses from Coronavirus Lawsuits

— April 24, 2020

Utah state Sen. Jani Iwamoto criticized the bill as a solution to “a problem […] that isn’t there.”

The Utah Legislature has approved a bill that’d shield businesses from some lawsuits related to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, the bill—approved Thursday—will make property owners and entrepreneurs immune from lawsuits filed by people who were exposed to coronavirus on their premises. Sen. Kirk Cullimore, a Draper Republican, said the legislation will encourage businesses to re-open without having to worry about “frivolous” negligence lawsuits.

“There have been a rash of businesses that are nervous about these claims and there have been threats of these claims as the economy reconstitutes,” Cullimore said. “So I thought that we should give those businesses some assurances […] that they will get immunity from these types of claims.”

Cullimore was backed by Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, a fellow Republican. Hemmert said that, while he doesn’t believe any such negligence claims have been filed in Utah, it’s best to cut off potential avenues before it’s too late.

Image of a Gavel Statue at Courthouse
Gavel Statue at Courthouse; image courtesy of Pixabay,

“We’re already seeing suits come up in other states related to COVID-19,” Hemmert said. “I think we’re better off just nipping this in the bud, even though it may be hard to prove.”

The Tribune notes that Sen. Cullimore is a practicing attorney whose firm often represents landlords in eviction cases. He purportedly declined comment on whether his act will apply to both commercial and residential property owners.

The law itself, says the Tribune, is somewhat vague, saying only that individuals are not liable for coronavirus exposures “on the premises owned or operated by the person, or during an activity managed by the person.”

Some Democrats have criticized the bill as opportunistic.

“It gives a get-out-of-liability free card  to just about all businesses and professionals for any misconduct connected with COVID-19,” said Rep. Brian King, a Democrat from Salt Lake City. “I just think it’s irresponsible, especially in light of the fact we have no examples […] of claims being made against businesses or professionals related to this pandemic.”

Fox13Now adds that other Democratic legislators, like Sen. Jani Iwamoto, have argued that the bill is too broad in its protections.

“[Exposure] could be a restaurant or a business […] or it could be at a school event or a concert or a rally,” Iwamoto said, adding that the act address a “problem that we’re trying to solve [but] that isn’t there.”

“It’s a major tort reform that I think the public needs to be involved with more and we need more discussion,” she said.

The Salt Lake Tribune observes that the Utah Legislature also passed an additional bill that’d require the governor to provide lawmakers with 24 hours’ notice prior to declaring or extending a state of emergency.


Utah legislature gives businesses immunity from lawsuits over COVID-19 exposure

Utah Legislature moves to shield businesses from coronavirus lawsuits

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