Whitmer OKs bills to protect businesses from virus lawsuits

Coronavirus

michigan capitol building lansing

(File)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday made Michigan businesses and other employers immune from lawsuits filed by customers or workers who contract the coronavirus, as long as they have followed all safety protocols.

She also codified rules retroactively shielding hospitals and other medical providers from pandemic-related lawsuits except in cases of willful misconduct or gross negligence, from late March to mid-July, in the wake of a state Supreme Court decision invalidating her executive orders.

Another newly signed law, which is similar to one of the orders, prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who stay home because they have been exposed to COVID-19.

“I look forward to more collaboration with the Legislature where we can find common ground,” the Democratic governor said in a statement after signing the legislation. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce and AFSCME Council 25, a union, applauded the step.

“With these protections, our job providers will have peace of mind that if they act responsibly and invest time and money to follow public health protocols, they will be protected from lawsuits related to this pandemic,” said a sponsor, Republican Rep. Graham Filler of DeWitt. “Workers will have the peace of mind that they will not be punished for following public health protocols.”

The Republican-led Senate and House successfully challenged Whitmer’s ability to unilaterally keep in place orders to curb and respond to the virus without legislative approval. Her administration has reinstated mask requirements, size limits on gatherings and other regulations under a different law, though a chiropractor and Christian school sued to block them in the past week.

Whitmer on Thursday also enacted a bill to codify and augment her administration’s recently announced changes related to the care of nursing home residents recovering from the virus. A nursing home can be a designated “care and recovery” center to house COVID-19 patients — similarly to current “hub” system — only if it has a federal staffing rating of at least three out of five stars, a distinct area for infected patients and staff who are solely dedicated to treating them.

A person hospitalized with the virus cannot be discharged to a nursing home if he or she has fewer than 72 hours left in his or her isolation period, unless the hospital has reached its surge capacity. A nursing home not deemed a care and recovery center can admit or readmit infected residents if it has a state-approved designated area for them.

Nursing home residents account for 2,222, or 30%, of Michigan’s 7,464 confirmed or probable deaths related to the virus. Twenty-two workers at such facilities have also died.