New Hampshire’s Enterprise and Trade Affiliation says it’s pushing for the passage of “secure harbor” laws subsequent yr with a view to defend companies from authorized legal responsibility associated to COVID-19.
In a video discussion board Monday night, BIA President Jim Roche mentioned the group would renew its efforts to determine the protections after initially advocating for them at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in spring.
“We’re queuing this up once more for the Legislature when it begins once more in January,” Roche mentioned.
A secure harbor safety would defend companies from sure classes of lawsuits that could be filed in opposition to them by workers or clients who take a look at optimistic for COVID-19 after spending time within the enterprise.
As envisioned by the BIA, the safety would kick in for any enterprise that had relied upon and adopted “relevant authorities requirements and steerage associated to coronavirus publicity.” For example, if the enterprise enforced the state masks mandate, saved workers socially distant and discouraged overcrowding, and an worker or buyer contracted COVID-19 after visiting, that enterprise would probably not be liable beneath the proposed safety.
Solely in circumstances the place gross negligence or willful misconduct or intentional felony conduct could possibly be confirmed with “clear and convincing proof – a excessive authorized burden of proof – might the enterprise face damages, beneath the BIA proposal.
Roche has mentioned that the measure would assist defend companies from crippling litigation within the face of a virus that’s troublesome to adequately defend in opposition to.
However the provision has confirmed controversial, with Democrats in New Hampshire calling it “a grave mistake,” arguing it might erode employee protections.
“It will be a mistake, not solely due to the bodily hazard that it presents to New Hampshire public well being, but additionally the hazard it poses to the intricate and sophisticated authorized relationship between worker and employer,” wrote state Sens. Kevin Cavanaugh of Manchester and Martha Hennessey of Hanover in a letter again then. Hennessey has since retired from the Senate.
The hassle is being spearheaded partially by Sen. Bob Giuda, a Warren Republican. The concept is to supply companies primary safety, he argued.
“In the event that they’re following the principles, they shouldn’t be sue-able if somebody contracts COVID and claims that it was from their institution, no matter that institution could also be,” Giuda mentioned Tuesday. “Once more, it’s contingent upon following the principles.”
An effort to persuade Republican Gov. Chris Sununu to implement the provisions failed again in Might. Sununu mentioned he supported the thought however thought it might be an motion extra appropriately taken by Congress.
Sununu’s lawyer common, Gordon MacDonald, did concern a steerage in late Might arguing that New Hampshire workers would already be blocked from suing their employer over a COVID-19 optimistic case attributable to current regulation. Beneath New Hampshire’s employee compensation regulation, MacDonald acknowledged, workers should search damages by means of the employee’s compensation program and are statutorily blocked from suing for private accidents so long as they remained employed.
Thus far, it seems few have completed so. On Monday’s video name with the BIA, New Hampshire Division of Labor Commissioner Ken Merrifield mentioned that there had been a marked decline within the variety of workers submitting employee’s compensation claims in any respect for the reason that pandemic started.
“The final time I checked statistics on that, it was really a really low quantity,” he mentioned. “Surprisingly low quantity.”
Merrifield ascribed the drop to a common discount in enterprise exercise by means of the spring and summer season months, but additionally mentioned that it was “probably as a result of enterprise house owners haven’t been capable of give attention to such reporting as diligently.”
Both approach, with a Republican state Home and Senate in Harmony, Roche says he’s hoping the political winds round a secure harbor safety have modified.
“Frankly I don’t suppose it’s going to occur on the federal degree, since you’ve obtained a Senate that’s, whereas the Senate Republicans are pushing this in Washington, it’s unlikely that the Home Democrats or the President-elect will help a authorized secure harbor,” Roche mentioned. “Not less than the type that we’d prefer to see.”
(Ethan DeWitt may be reached at 369-3307, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)