Gov. Mike Parson has asked the Legislature to wait until next session to take up a bill that aims to protect Missouri businesses and other organizations from COVID-19 liability lawsuits. Less than one month ago, Parson expanded his special session call to urge lawmakers to pass virus-related protections for businesses. Parson’s office did not give a reason for putting off work on the proposal.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry has been pushing for passage of the measure.

Gov. Mike Parson

News of the request hit as a Missouri Senate committee held a hearing Tuesday about a measure to address such legal claims. During the hearing, Mark Moreland with the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys says the legislation is not necessary because there have been no such lawsuits filed yet in Missouri.

“And why? Because this is a communicable disease,” he says. “As good a lawyer as I think I may be, I don’t think I can prove that you got your COVID-19 at the restaurant and you did so because the restaurant owner somehow screwed up. This bill isn’t an attempt to deal with an issue in Missouri. It’s an attempt to put the camel – not the camel’s nose – but the camel underneath the tent when it comes to products liability and premises liability.”

Sen. Bill White, R-Joplin, fired back.

“We’re talking a five-year statute of limitations. The fact that we have an ongoing pandemic and we’ve had zero cases in the first nine months does not mean you will not have multitudes as we get a vaccine, things chill out a bit, people have longer-term exposure,” says White.

Dana Frese testified on behalf of the Missouri Hospital Association in support of the plan.

“Our healthcare providers have been at war with this virus during the pandemic and they deserve our support. They are exhausted,” he says. “Also, when COVID-19 patients stress the capacity of smaller, rural hospitals, it makes it harder for those healthcare providers to care for patients with a heart attack, a stroke, an automobile accident or other serious medical conditions. Missouri hospitals and physicians can ill afford during the pandemic to spend their precious time and limited resources defending claims alleging that someone contracted COVID-19 in a healthcare setting, despite the heroic efforts of our healthcare providers since March. Our Missouri healthcare providers must remain focused on providing healthcare to our citizens during this pandemic and not be subjected to litigation over COVID-19 exposure. The virus is pervasive in Missouri and is not under control.”

Despite the change of plans, the panel spent about two hours discussing the legislation.

Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, is the sponsor of the proposal, Senate Bill 1.

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