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'Safe Harbor Act' headed to full Senate Judiciary Committee

The bill would protect business owners and healthcare providers from COVID-19 lawsuits.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina Senate subcommittee approved a proposed bill on Tuesday to protect businesses from getting sued for COVID-related reasons if they’re following safety guidelines. 

Small business owners have been pushing for the proposed “South Carolina COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor Act” to protect businesses from lawsuits over customers' or employees' COVID-19 exposure.

Ben Homeyer from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) says it would protect businesses against frivolous law suits. "We've lost 10 percent of our businesses," he said.

"Should someone get COVID, you would be protected against a lawsuit because you have done everything in your power," Homeyer said. "Over 90% of Carolinians work in a small business."

RELATED: Newly filed bills focus coronavirus issues in South Carolina

Elizabeth Trenbeath from Snelling Staffing Services says a lawsuit like this could cripple a business. "We have had to face so much this past year," she said.

"The average rent for a small business is a $1000 a month, if attorney fees are $12,000, that's a whole year of rent," Trenbeath said. "It can really damage small businesses."

Meanwhile, Representative Todd Rutherford says the bill provides no reasonable protection. 

"We have been facing COVID for over a year now and I am unaware of a single lawsuit that has faced any business in the state," Rutherford said. "Show me the evidence to prove somebody got COVID from a business. It's impossible."

A JOINT RESOLUTION TO ENACT THE "SOUTH CAROLINA COVID-19 LIABILITY SAFE HARBOR ACT"; TO PROVIDE LIABILITY PROTECTIONS FOR A LIMITED TIME PERIOD FOR HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS AND BUSINESSES THAT FOLLOW PUBLIC HEALTH GUIDANCE IN RESPONSE TO THE CORONAVIRUS PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY; TO STATE THE LIABILITY PROTECTION FOR COVERED ENTITIES AND

RELATED: Businesses could get liability protection for COVID-19

Pediatrician Dr. Michael Finch says this bill will also protect practicing physicians. "Physicians themselves feel vulnerable," Finch said. "Physicians are expected to practice at the same high quality and high standards that we've always held, but things can go wrong."

"This could legitimately put them out of business, if an unjust lawsuit is filed against them," Homeyer said.

"You can't sue a person in South Carolina for catching COVID," Rutherford said.

The bill will not protect business owners who don't adhere to the CDC guidelines. It's set to expire when the state of emergency is lifted. 

The bill will now go to the full senate judiciary committee, which will meet next Tuesday.