Georgia State: Immune to COVID-19, Thank You, SB 359

Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill that drastically changes how COVID-19 is being handled. Corporations are now free from the burden of COVID-19 liability, making the bill great for business, but a threat to students and workers.

SB 359 or the Georgia COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act, also known as the “Corporate Immunity Bill,” was signed on August 5, 2020. This bill essentially shields any entity from COVID-19 liability claims.

Businesses are now protected by their little warning signs hanging in windows and have no incentive to follow any COVID-19 safety guidelines. This bare minimum will now ensure the entity can take zero responsibility for any death or injury resulting from COVID-19.

The legal definition of “entity” is very broad, as it includes any association, government agencies, public school systems, the University System of Georgia and even religious institutions.Therefore, they are protected against liability claims.   

How are they shielded, exactly? In this new law, the burden of proof is higher; “negligence” is defined as the failure to take the precautions any normal person would have. “Gross negligence” is now defined as the individual being able to prove willful and reckless disregard for the safety and reasonable treatment of others. This higher burden is near impossible to prove.

How do you prove the grocery store intended to recklessly expose you to COVID-19? And even if you could, you already “assumed the risk” by entering the grocery store. Signs are posted at the door, so when you enter the premises, you have already taken the risk of potential COVID-19 exposure. Basically, you’re always partially at fault for something you have to do.

This applies to Georgia State, an open campus, where any worker, student or visitor who steps onto campus has then assumed the risk for the “inherent” risks of COVID-19.

Not only is this bad for students living or going to class on campus but also for workers. 

Employees who have been injured on the job while working cannot file civil claims; they must go through the State Board of Workers’ Compensation. Great! Workers can just go through the worker’s compensation system for any medical treatment due to their COVID-19 illness, right? Wrong.

“COVID-19 is not considered an ‘occupational’ illness, and therefore not even covered under worker’s compensation,” Valerie Barnhart, a lobbyist for the United Food and Commercial Workers, said over the phone.

You can argue that students and other campus visitors may choose to enter the campus, but workers do not have that choice. They must return to work, and in the current recession aggravated by the pandemic, refusing work is simply a luxury many cannot afford.

A handful of Democrats supported this immunity bill despite Georgia’s unions actively lobbying against it. A few had previously been endorsed by the Georgia unions. You can find out who voted for or against the bill here. You may or may not be surprised.

According to Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero, “This is egregious during a pandemic, that public health compliance cannot even be forced through litigation.”

Georgia State community, we are screwed (at least until the law expires in 2021). But a federal version of this bill is coming.

Enter at your own risk.