Gov. Steve Sisolak signed Senate Bill 4 (SB 4) yesterday which gives Nevada-based hospitality businesses immunities from COVID-19-related lawsuits in certain cases.
SB4 was passed 16-5 in the Senate on Aug. 5. It limits “the civil liability of certain businesses conducted for profit, governmental entities and private nonprofit organizations for personal injury or death resulting from exposure to COVID-19.”
Simply put, it will be harder to file lawsuits against businesses for COVID-19 related injuries provided they maintain the minimum standards of cleanliness set by the state. But Section 29 also requires the courts to deal with a lawsuit “with particularity” if it is filed and provides that “immunity” does not apply “if the business, governmental entity or private nonprofit organization violated controlling health standards with gross negligence and the gross negligence was the proximate cause of the personal injury or death.”
Which industries benefit?
The bill focuses primarily on the hospitality industry “as we know no other state in the country is as dependent on the travel and tourism industry as Nevada,” said Sisolak.
Each year, Nevada has 42 million visitors who contribute to its hospitality and tourism industry.
Calling the current situation “an all consuming economic crisis in our state in addition to the public health crisis” amid a historic budget shortfall of $1.2 billion, and loss of 133,000 jobs in the hospitality industry in April and May, Sisolak said the same industry needs protection for the “economic survival of the state.”
SB4 “is first in the nation’s legislation that will institute important worker protection in the hospitality industry,” he said.
Apart from the hospitality industry, the bill includes especially the small businesses “struggling due to COVID-19” in its protective fold. SB4 will save them from “frivolous litigations.” Sisolak thanked the Vegas Chamber for supporting the move.
Limitations in the bill
According to Sisolak, “This legislation does not provide total immunity to businesses under all circumstances,” and should not be misunderstood to be an “impenetrable shield.”
Those inevitable “bad actors” who continue to not follow state directives will be liable and “continue to face legal consequences.”
However, some Nevadans have criticized the bill.
“My mother works for as an office manager who IS back at work and my father works at a factory in Las Vegas – this bill will do nothing to protect them and puts their lives further at risk,” said Annette Magnus, executive director of Battle Born Progress, a progressive not-for-profit organization.
“Their anxiety about working safely during these times should not be heightened by the removal of their ability to hold their employer accountable…This bill is a slap in the face for the working families in this state and we will remember who decided to stand with businesses over the people of this state,” she said.
Certain Nevada institutions objected, too, as SB4 did not extend the protections to them.
Summer Stephens, Superintendent of Churchill County School District and the current vice president of the Nevada Association of School Superintendents did not support the bill because it excludes schools from the same protection.
The Nevada Health Care Association/Nevada Center for Assisted Living also made its objection known for “exclusions of health care facilities.”
What IS in the bill
Aside from giving protections to businesses, SB4 decentralizes COVID-19 related measures to be taken by administrators. It provides instructions on how small counties, cities and towns with a population of 100,000 and more can create a health district.
Existing laws set the population criteria to 700,000 or more (currently only Clark County) for creation of a health district.
The purpose of these new health districts will be to provide suitable COVID-related instructions to licensed gaming establishments serving smaller populations to reduce the transmission of “SARS-CoV-2” and also enforce the measures.
The Nevada Gaming Control Board specifically requested to be advised on these matters.
Section 14 of this bill requires the director of the health district to prohibit a “public accommodation,” an employer in this case, “from retaliating against an employee for ” or “seeking enforcement” of those measures.
But section 10, allows Nevadans to have a discussion with the health district director if they do not agree with a certain regulation or want it repealed.
With the governor’s approval, the measure became retroactively effective on Aug. 5.
However, Section 30, of this act that “authorizes the Secretary of State to suspend the state business license of a person” for non-compliance, and “requires the Secretary of State to provide notice of the suspension to the person,” ends when the Governor terminates the COVID-19 emergency or by July 1, 2023.