MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A bill that supporters say will protect Tennessee businesses and other organizations from frivolous lawsuits related to COVID-19 is now headed to Gov. Bill Lee's desk.
Both the state House and Senate passed the bill during their special session on Wednesday.
Tennessee lawmakers returned to Nashville this week to deal with issues Lee says cannot wait, including a proposal that supporters say will protect businesses, churches, healthcare providers, schools, and other organizations in Tennessee from frivolous lawsuits.
"This legislation will provide legal clarity and certainty for health care providers, businesses, schools, non-profits, and others," Lee said.
"There is nothing here that bars someone from a lawsuit," said Rep. William Lamberth, the House Majority Leader. "It merely reflects the environment that we live in right now."
The proposal says anyone filing a lawsuit because of loss, damage, injury, or death arising from COVID-19 must provide "clear and convincing evidence" that the person, business, or organization they're suing acted with "gross negligence or willful misconduct."
"If you're doing what you should be doing, it makes it a little harder to put you out of business," said Lamberth.
The Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or TOSHA, told WMC Action News 5 they've received 877 complaints about unsafe work conditions related to COVID-19.
Forty-six COVID-19-related lawsuits have been filed in Tennessee, according to Hunton Andrews Kurth, an international law firm that tracks state and federal COVID-19 litigation.
But Memphis Democratic Senator Sara Kyle, who voted against the bill says it does more harm than good and lets people who've acted recklessly in the pandemic off the hook.
"If this bill becomes law, there's virtually no circumstances in which a person can bring a successful COVID based lawsuit, no matter how irresponsible the person who infected them was because no doctor will ever be able to state with certainty that a defendant's actions caused a plaintiff's injuries," said Kyle. "This bill will endanger workers and consumers while deliberately protecting people who were behaving irresponsibly during a pandemic."
The bill passed the Senate 27-4. It passed the House 80-10.
It now heads to Lee, who is expected to sign it into law.