Businesses soon will have protection from lawsuits by those alleging they caught COVID-19 at an establishment in most cases.

Missouri’s COVID-19 liability bill, Senate Bill 51, goes into effect Aug. 28. After that date, the only way to bring a lawsuit will be to prove the business or entity’s “recklessness or willful misconduct” caused the COVID-19 exposure and “the actual exposure caused personal injury to the plaintiff.”

Missouri Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer is the bill’s sponsor.

“This is the time when these types of frivolous lawsuits are going to start to get filed, and so we absolutely need this bill in order to protect our economy,” Luetkemeyer said. “As we start to reopen the economy, we need to make sure that we’re protecting our frontline health care workers or small businesses or schools.”

Discussion on the legislation actually began a year ago during a special pandemic-related session, and it has been a top priority of Gov. Mike Parson. An emergency clause would have begun the bill’s authority as soon as Parson’s signature was placed on it, but that measure was defeated.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce was the first entity to call for the special session to discuss the approaching legal matter. Dan Mehan is the president and CEO of the organization.

“It provides certainty ... to employers out there — small, medium and large — that they can open without the fear of reprisal … Secondly, look at the states around us. Pretty much every one of them have done something on this front,” Mehan said. “Senate Bill 51 just raises that legal standard that someone has to meet in a lawsuit to prove that they caught COVID at your grocery store.”

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce would have preferred legislators in Jefferson City had agreed to the bill sooner, because of the liability gap between now and August, Mehan said.

Ryan Hennessy can be reached at ryan.hennessy@newspressnow.com. Follow him on twitter: @NPNowHennessy.

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