On July 8, 2020, Governor Reeves signed the “Mississippi Back-to-Business Liability Assurance and Health Care Emergency Response Liability Protection Act” (Senate Bill No. 3049), which provides broad immunity to businesses, healthcare professionals, and manufacturers from lawsuits arising out of any injuries or death resulting from or related to COVID-19.
The Act provides that any person (defined to include for-profit entities), or any agent of that person, who attempts in good faith to follow applicable public health guidance in the performance of its functions or services is immune from suit for damages arising out of any injuries or death resulting from or related to COVID-19. It also grants immunity in the course of performance of functions or services before applicable public health guidance was available.
The Act provides that:
[a]n owner, lessee, occupant or any other person in control of a premises, who attempts, in good faith, to follow applicable public health guidance and directly or indirectly invites or permits any person onto a premises shall be immune from suit for civil damages for any injuries or death resulting from or related to actual or alleged exposure or potential exposure to COVID-19.
The Act also grants immunity to healthcare professionals and facilities and any person who designs, manufactures, labels, sells, distributes, or donates a qualified product (defined to include personal protective equipment; medical devices, equipment and supplies; medication; and tests).
The Act does not apply when the plaintiff can show, by clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant acted with actual malice or willful, intentional misconduct. A plaintiff must file suit within two (2) years after the date the cause of action accrues.
The Act took effect as of March 14, 2020 and expires one (1) year after the end of the COVID-19 state of emergency. Any civil liability that occurs during the operation of the Act remains subject to its provisions in perpetuity.
Note 1: This Act should provide some protection to landlords and tenants from COVID-19 claims. However, while the Act grants broad immunity, it only addresses lawsuits for damages related to injury or death. It does not address suits for economic damages.
Note 2: Other states are all over the board on providing protection to business owners and employers. Relative to other states, Mississippi’s statute provides very broad protection to owners and employers. Some states, such as Georgia, Iowa, and Oklahoma, have enacted statutes that are as broad as Mississippi’s statute. Some states have passed statutes that give some protection to owners and employers but the protection is not as broad as Mississippi’s statute; for example, some statutes are not retroactive, and some statutes provide protection only for certain types of properties. Approximately one-third of the states have not passed any statues protecting owners or employers.