As COVID-19 barrels through Minnesota and the nation, the people of our state look for a vaccine to provide immunity. At the same time, some of our state legislators have seized on this opportunity to obtain a different type of immunity—immunity from liability. In Minnesota, a number of COVID-19 immunity bills were introduced toward the end of the regular legislative session. If passed, they would have provided broad immunity for employers, medical providers, nursing homes, and other businesses.1
While no immunity bill has passed in Minnesota so far, thanks in large part to the good work done by the Minnesota Association for Justice (MAJ), one bill of particular interest to our practice area saw some traction. SF 4603, a medical immunity bill, received a hearing in the Health and Human Services Senate Finance and Policy Committee. At the hearing, Joel Carlson (an MAJ lobbyist) and Chris Messerly (Robins Kaplan Partner) testified against the bill.
Describing the bill, Chris Messerly explained, “Hospitals and healthcare providers want a ‘get out of jail free’ card for harming Minnesotans. They are trying to take advantage of the pandemic to deprive Minnesotans of their constitutional right to a jury trial based on a claim that healthcare providers are incapable of consistently providing adequate medical care during the pandemic.” The bill is so broad it would make medical providers immune from criminal, civil, and administrative liability for harm or damages caused to patients.
Joel Carlson’s testimony highlighted the bill’s effect of stripping away the constitutional right to a jury trial, and Chris Messerly explained to the committee that the law in Minnesota takes into account the circumstances within which care is provided, negating the need for this type of immunity bill.
Bipartisan opposition to this extreme bill was such that its author was unable to pass it out of her own Republicancontrolled Senate committee. “In that committee, this anti-consumer bill died the death it deserved,” said Chris Messerly. As the pandemic rages on, however, there are ongoing efforts to get the governor to issue an executive order giving immunity during the peacetime emergency. To date, his office has put Minnesotans’ rights ahead of wrongdoers and has not been willing to issue such an order. Continued diligence to prevent the implementation of COVID-19 liability immunity is therefore necessary so that the constitutional rights of Minnesotans are not compromised.