South Dakota House Bill aims to limit liability for COVID-19 exposure

 A view in Pierre of the State Capital.
A view in Pierre of the State Capital. (KOTA)
Published: Jan. 13, 2021 at 9:26 AM MST
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PIERRE, S.D. (KEVN) - As the coronavirus pandemic persists, South Dakota legislators introducing a bill to shield businesses from liability for COVID-19 infections.

South Dakota Representative David Anderson (R-District 16/Hudson) proposed House Bill 1046, along with 14 Republican co-sponsors. The bill is meant to protect certain organizations such as businesses, health care providers, and school districts from frivolous lawsuits as a result of COVID-19.

Rep. Anderson hopes this legislation will set a standard as to how exposure to COVID-19 is handled in court.

“It’s something that nobody has ever dealt with before, it’s not anything anybody prepared for or knew how to prepare for and you know the last thing a business needs or a school district needs is somebody filing a lawsuit saying well I visited your establishment and four days later I was sick. So I’m sure it was you, so here’s a lawsuit,” said Rep. Anderson.

HB 1046 would forbid suing for negligence in exposing anyone to COVID-19. Section 2 would ensure a plaintiff would have to prove “intentional exposure with the intent to transmit COVID-19.”

In Section 4, healthcare providers are explicitly excused from damages for death or injury related to coronavirus, including if a plaintiff says harm happened due to a health care provider’s “use or nonuse of personal protective equipment.”

The Associated School Boards of South Dakota is in support of this bill.

“What I think people don’t realize is that when you open a business, when you open a school, there are certain protections that you have for people so that they are not harmed. With COVID, the question has always been: So what is that standard? How do you know you’ve done enough in order so that people aren’t harmed,” said Wade Pogany, Executive Director of Associated School Boards of South Dakota.

This bill answers that question. The standard for many organizations to be protected from liability is to not intentionally expose someone to COVID with the intent to transmit the virus.

The South Dakota Retailers Association is also backing the bill.

“Certainly not prevent bad actors from any type of liability protection. But to ensure that good actors aren’t put out of business or sued unnecessarily. To ensure that businesses don’t have that as yet one other thing to worry about in what’s really been a pretty challenging year,” said Nathan Sanderson, Executive Director of the South Dakota Retailers Association.

Rep. Anderson says COVID lawsuits against organizations hasn’t been an issue at this point.

“But let’s just pass this quickly and make sure it doesn’t become a problem as businesses try to get back up and running,” said Rep. Anderson.

Rep. Anderson says the bill is modeled after an Iowa law that was passed last year by their legislature.

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