Recently, my colleagues and I returned to Nashville for an extraordinary session of the 111th Tennessee General Assembly — the 61st special session in the history of this great state. One of the issues we worked to address was to clarify standards for holding a person or entity liable for loss, damage, injury, or death as part of a lawsuit related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Tennessee COVID-19 Recovery Act increases protections for businesses, schools, institutions of higher learning, churches and civic organizations that are operating in good faith from frivolous lawsuits during the pandemic by raising the bar for action from simple negligence to gross negligence or willful misconduct. At the same time, this bill still provides a pathway for Tennesseans with valid claims to access the judicial system and hold those who jeopardize the health and safety of our citizens by operating in gross negligence or willful misconduct accountable.
Under this legislation, any individual alleging injury must file a verified complaint, citing specific facts, as well as clear and convincing evidence that the injury was caused by an act or omission constituting gross negligence or that an entity operated in willful misconduct, which resulted in a loss, damage, injury, or death from COVID-19. The Tennessee COVID-19 Recovery Act does not affect worker’s compensation claims. Additionally, any lawsuits filed on or prior to Gov. Bill Lee’s call for a special session on Aug. 3, 2020 would still be able to move forward. This bill sets predictable standards moving forward for future lawsuits involving the COVID-19 pandemic.
These are unprecedented times for all of us across this state; our businesses have suffered considerable hardships because of unexpected closures in recent months, and many of our schools have worked tirelessly to implement policies and procedures to safely reopen in order to continue educating their students. Some of our healthcare facilities have expressed a strong desire to operate as COVID-only facilities, and many Tennesseans wish to safely return to their houses of worship.
The Tennessee COVID-19 Recovery Act strengthens protections for all of these entities that operate in good faith, so individuals or groups seeking a quick payday do not put them out of business once and for all. Through this legislation, we will also be able to enhance our efforts to hold bad actors accountable, so we can ensure all who operate safely and effectively remain successful.
William Lamberth is the House Majority Leader for the 111th Tennessee General Assembly. He is also a member of the House Finance, House Government Operations, and House Calendar & Rules Committees, as well as the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Lamberth lives in Portland and represents Tennessee House District 44, which includes part of Sumner County.