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State agencies now immune from liability if someone contracts COVID-19

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State agencies now immune from liability if someone contracts COVID-19 (Photo: KUTV)

A bill passing both chambers of the Legislature during Thursday’s special session gives Utah governmental agencies immunity against lawsuits if someone gets COVID-19 in a state-run facility.

It’s part of a law that began during the last special session in May, where lawmakers say including governmental agencies was intended but not made clear, so they passed it this session. So, from now on, if you think you got the coronavirus at the DMV or a state-run liquor store, you can't sue the state.

“I think there will be a shared burden, but at the end of the day Utahns need to do what's best for them,” said state Senator Kirk Cullimore (R-District 9).

Cullimore, who sponsored Thursday’s bill giving the government immunity, says it potentially saves the taxpayer money.

“Being sued is enough to wreak havoc in a business — or even in the government — you're now looking at potential settlements or litigation costs.”

Cullimore says, historically, there's never been legal claims for contracting the flu or another viral contagion.

“What we don't want is to hold the government or businesses to some new standard because of these unprecedented times,” Cullimore said.

Thursday’s vote on the bill was far from unanimous.

“When we say to the government, 'you're immune from any liability,' we make it much more likely that the government doesn't do its job well,” said Representative Brian King (D-District 28), who voted against the bill.

King says the problem with immunity is it's a one-size-fits-all approach for something he says should be handled on a case-by-case basis

“Let’s make sure we incentivize everyone to act responsibly, to be as careful as they can," King said.

The bill is awaiting Governor Gary Herbert’s signature. It has two exceptions where someone could sue the government if they prove recklessness or intentional conduct was present.