On Monday, November 30th, Governor Tom Wolf vetoed legislation that would have provided limited liability protections to businesses, non-profit organizations, educational and health care institutions against frivolous lawsuits related to COVID-19. In the final days of the legislative session, the General Assembly passed H.B. 1737 which contained the protections employers have sought for much of 2020. The protections in the measure were narrow in scope, temporary, and would have incentivized best practices by still holding bad actors accountable.
The Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce joined the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry, 80 local chambers of commerce from throughout the state, and dozens of statewide associations and organizations in supporting the bill. A recent poll from the Institute for Legal Reform found that 79 percent of Americans from across the political spectrum support liability protections for businesses that are operating in good faith by following state and federal health and safety guidelines. Nearly 30 other states have implemented some form of either product or exposure liability protections.
Senator John Gordner and Representatives Kurt Masser and David Millard voted in favor of H.B. 1737. Chamber President Fred Gaffney expressed his appreciation to these lawmakers for their efforts to support and protect businesses and other entities. As the 2019-20 legislative session has concluded, the General Assembly does not have the opportunity to override the Governor’s veto.
Gene Barr, president & CEO of the PA Chamber, issued the following statement in response to the Governor’s veto.
“Businesses across the Commonwealth struggling to simply survive were dealt yet another blow today as Governor Wolf vetoed critical liability protections; and instead backed opportunistic trial lawyers anxious to profit from this crisis. This threat is not hypothetical, Pennsylvania employers are already being targeted with unwarranted lawsuits – a number which is expected to increase in the months and years ahead given the large sums of advertising the trial bar is dedicating to the effort, along with the fact that there is a two year window to file such suits.
“The Governor’s recent Executive Order might mention liability protections, but the language falls short of what is needed and many businesses and organizations are still trying to determine exactly what protections the order does afford. Many employers are left vulnerable, including the companies working to produce the vaccines that are so desperately needed.”