Last week, the North Carolina General Assembly approved legislation intended to provide individuals and businesses across the state with protection from lawsuits alleging acts or omissions leading to COVID-19 infections. If signed by Governor Roy Cooper, the new law would provide limited immunity from such suits for 180 days after expiration of the state’s COVID-19 emergency declaration.
The new legislation does not provide blanket immunity for businesses. It would not apply to claims based on allegations of gross negligence, willful or wanton conduct, or intentional misconduct. The act also does not preclude employees from filing for compensation for COVID-19 exposure under the state’s workers’ compensation laws, or prevent North Carolina OSHA from citing employers for failure to follow “General Duty Clause” requirements to protect workers from unreasonable risk of exposure.
Even with these exceptions, the measure passed by the General Assembly substantially raises the bar for plaintiffs to recover damages for alleged COVID-19 exposure. Companies that follow OSHA and CDC guidelines with respect to infection control procedures should be able to claim protection from lawsuits alleging simple negligence.