Kemp approves COVID protections for Ga. businesses

07/22/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Gov. Brian Kemp speaks during a special service to honor the legacy of C.T. Vivian as his body lie in state inside the rotunda at the Georgia State Capitol Building, Wednesday, July 22, 2020.  (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
07/22/2020 - Atlanta, Georgia - Gov. Brian Kemp speaks during a special service to honor the legacy of C.T. Vivian as his body lie in state inside the rotunda at the Georgia State Capitol Building, Wednesday, July 22, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill into law late Wednesday that shields businesses and health care providers from COVID-19-related lawsuits.

Senate Bill 359 blocks negligence suits as long as companies follow social distancing, disinfection and other safety protocols outlined by public health officials. Customers and employees can still file cases if they can prove “gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, reckless infliction of harm, or intentional infliction of harm,” a higher standard of proof, as well as workers compensation claims.

The legislation was a top priority of the business community, which warned of a deluge of frivolous lawsuits without extra legal protections. It passed during the closing moments of the General Assembly’s abbreviated June session with largely Republican support.

ExploreFew mandates for businesses when employees test positive for COVID-19

Democrats, unions and other critics argued the measure would take away one of the most effective tools frontline workers have for fighting back against unsafe business practices. They also highlighted the new protections being afforded to senior care facilities, where thousands of Georgians have caught the coronavirus and more than have 1,200 died.

Kemp did not make comments on the measure when he approved it during the final hours of his 40-day veto period. It came the same day he signed a more a contentious bill granting law enforcement new legal protections.

The business liability protections sunset on July 14, 2021.

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