Recently, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed House Bill 605. Although it is not law just yet, it poses many problems for students, teachers, and anyone else that visits an educational facility and is exposed to the COVID-19 virus while there. If passed, anyone that contracts COVID-19 due to exposure in an educational facility would not have the ability to sue the institution for damages related to their illness. Additionally, the bill also includes an arbitration requirement, which can limit a victim’s options to collect compensation even further.
What is Covered Under House Bill 605?
House Bill 605 states that educational institutions within the state could not face liability in a lawsuit pertaining to COVID-19 exposure. The only exception to this is when the facility or its staff members were grossly negligent or acted intentionally to expose others to the virus. To avoid liability claims, an educational facility would only have to show that they complied with public health directives at the time of the exposure.
The definition of ‘public health directives’ is left fairly vague in the proposed bill. It includes only guidelines or orders issued by a state or federal government pertaining to the following:
- The distribution, manufacturing, or labeling of personal protection equipment,
- Testing or treating individuals that are believed to have been exposed to COVID-19, or
- Taking the necessary steps that are intended to limit, slow, or prevent the spread of the virus
Proving that public health directives were followed is not always difficult for institutions such as educational facilities. This greatly limits an individual’s ability to claim compensation for the high medical bills and other damages associated with treating COVID-19.
The Arbitration Provision
The bill makes it even more difficult for people to file a lawsuit if they contract COVID-19 in an educational facility because it contains an arbitration provision. During arbitration, both sides meet with an arbitrator and present their arguments. After hearing from both sides, the arbitrator will make a decision that is legally-binding. Often, these arbitrators work for school boards, or universities and colleges, so their final decision is not always unbiased.
The arbitration provision is the main difference between this bill and House Bill 1737, which was similar legislation and passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in November of 2020. Governor Wolf ultimately vetoed that bill, claiming that it was an overreach.
Our Personal Injury Lawyers in Pennsylvania Can Help with Your COVID Claim
There have been a number of lawsuits emerging over the past year that relate to COVID-19. Even with certain legislation in place to help others shield liability, you can still pursue damages in many cases and our Philadelphia personal injury lawyers can help you do it. At van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim, we know how to help victims recover damages, even when a case presents challenges. Call us today at (215) 486-0123 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation so we can get started on your claim.