Corporate COVID Liability Bills Draw Scrutiny in ND

Mike Moen

BISMARCK, N.D. -- Divisions remain over measures in the North Dakota Legislature concerning liability protections for businesses during the pandemic.

Labor advocates and other opponents say the provisions might provide too much cover when it comes to potential lawsuits.

The legislation essentially shields a business or a corporation from lawsuits brought by workers or consumers exposed to COVID-19.

Business and hospital groups support the bills, saying they especially protect those on the front lines caring for patients, but some say the language is too broad.

Jaci Hall, executive director of the attorney group North Dakota Association for Justice, said it needs to be more specific, while noting despite some "outside" actors, there isn't a widespread problem with frivolous lawsuits during the crisis.

workers factory man wearing face mask and working at heavy machine. Safety protection of air pollution smoke dust and disease virus Covid 19. New normal life in workplace.

"No one is licensed in the state of North Dakota who is trying to find cases and take on these cases," Hall pointed out. "Many of our members are turning down cases."

Hall spoke at a Senate committee hearing on one of the bills, House Bill 1175, which already has cleared the House.

The protections in the measures are retroactive to the start of the crisis, and contain a sunset clause. Dozens of other states have either adopted or are looking at similar rules.

Supporters maintain that businesses, especially smaller firms, need a legal shield when they're trying to do the right thing.

Landis Larson, president of the North Dakota AFL-CIO, said while many companies have gone above and beyond to protect their staff over the past year, he noted not all employers have placed safety at the forefront.

"Shielding these bad actors from litigation would only encourage them to ignore the scant guidelines on infectious diseases in the workplace," Larson contended.

He argued the lack of cohesive standards on protecting workers during COVID-19 complicates the issue and puts working families at risk of contracting the virus.

Larson added it would make matters worse if they didn't have the legal recourse to take action against an employer that didn't do its best to provide safety.

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

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