Ohio House Bill 606 – Immunity From Lawsuits

Ohio House Bill 606 just became law in Ohio. As a business owner, should I care? The answer is a resounding YES. The purpose of this new law is to protect businesses in Ohio from lawsuits relating to exposure to COVID-19 (along with other viruses). This legislation is retroactive to March 9, 2020 and extends through September 30, 2021. The legislature has reasoned that in the past business owners were not liable if a customer caught the common flu while in a restaurant – so why should that be any different today.

Now, this immunity from lawsuits is not unlimited. In order for a business owner to be liable for a customer’s exposure and possible resulting damages, the customer will have to establish that the exposure was due to the “reckless conduct or intentional misconduct or willful or wanton misconduct on part of the [business] against whom the action is brought.” This will be a pretty high bar from the customer to jump over.

The customer will have to establish more than just mere negligence. The customer will basically have to establish that the business purposefully took steps to allow the virus to spread or failed to take any precautions in stopping the spread.

For the vast majority of businesses that I have visited, it appears that the businesses are making reasonable attempts to keep customers safe – spacing tables out in restaurants, placing the markers on the floor in retail stores indicating where customers should stand while in line, employees actively cleaning carts before the next shopper uses one, employees wearing masks, making masks available to customers if they do not have one, etc. But, if you see a restaurant or store that is crammed to capacity and people are standing shoulder to shoulder, then in such an example I could see an argument that a business owner’s conduct could be reckless.

The legislation goes even further. The legislation states that customers also have some responsibility for their own actions. Customers “who decide to go out into public spaces are responsible to take those steps they feel are necessary to avoid exposure to COVID-19, such as social distancing and wearing masks.” And, the legislation provides that any guidance from the governor or local boards of health will not create any new legal duties for business owners and any such orders will not even be admissible at trial. Even though the orders may be inadmissible, a creative plaintiff’s attorney will always be able to assert evidence as to virus spread along with best practices even if an underlying governmental order is inadmissible at trial.

So, while some people may not think this legislation was unnecessary, it is the law in Ohio (at least until there is a successful legal challenge). I think most business owners are going to do what is right to protect staff and customers. If as a customer you are like minded, then make sure to patronize those businesses that are incurring additional expenses to keep you safe!

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Chris Corpus

Founding Partner at Corpus Law Inc

This article does not provide legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about this topic or if you have other legal questions, do not hesitate to contact Chris Corpus, Esq. of Corpus Law Inc at 216-973-2475. Copyright Christopher A. Corpus 2016.