New Wisconsin Law Grants Broad COVID-19 Civil Liability Immunity: Here’s Who is Impacted

Submitted by HAWS-KM Profes… on Thu, 03/11/2021 - 17:18

New Wisconsin Law Grants Broad COVID-19 Civil Liability Immunity: Here’s Who is Impacted By: Cody Bauer

On February 25, 2021, Governor Tony Evers signed Wisconsin Act 4, a new law that protects certain entities from civil liability against claims related to COVID-19. With the passage of Act 4, Wisconsin joins the ever-growing list of states that have enacted similar laws that protect businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits, including Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming.1

What is the Impact?
Wisconsin’s COVID-19 liability immunity law allows businesses to operate knowing they may have some protection from civil liability. Notwithstanding the passage of these statutes, businesses still should remain mindful of federal, state, and local mandates and public health guidelines related to COVID-19.

The statute, in part, reads: “Beginning March 1, 2020, an entity is immune from civil liability for the death of or injury to any individual or damages caused by an act or omission resulting in or relating to exposure, directly or indirectly, to … COVID−19 in the course of or through the performance or provision of the entity’s functions or services.”2

Who is Covered?
“Entity” is defined broadly under the law to include a:

  • partnership,
  • corporation,
  • association,
  • governmental entity,
  • tribal government,
  • tribal entity, or
  • other legal entity (school, institution of higher education, or nonprofit organization).

The Act also grants immunity to employers or business owners, employees, agents, independent contractors, and paid or unpaid volunteers of a covered entity.3 In a general sense, the new law protects these entities from civil liability should a resident, customer, student, or other individual contract COVID-19 through the performance or provision of the entity’s functions or services.  

What are the Liability Exceptions?
The entity is not immune from liability, however, if it acts with reckless or wanton conduct or intentional misconduct.4 While not defined in the statute, Wisconsin courts have previously defined “recklessness” as “a conscious disregard of an unreasonable and substantial risk of serious bodily harm to another,”5 and finding “wanton action” as that which is unreasonable and dangerous with a high probability of harm to another.6

What constitutes reckless or wanton conduct within the context of COVID-19-related injuries is an interesting question and will need to be determined by Wisconsin courts as covered entities begin to exercise these new protections.

Wisconsin’s new law affords businesses
some of the broadest COVID-19
civil liability immunity in the country.

Specifically, while many of other states require a business to show reasonable adherence to, or a good faith effort to follow, public health guidance in order to receive the immunity protection, Wisconsin’s new law has no such explicit requirement.

What Laws Exist in Minnesota?
Though no civil immunity law currently exists in Minnesota, the Minnesota State Senate has introduced Senate File No. 512, which would provide civil immunity to healthcare providers, first responders, and healthcare facilities from COVID-19-related lawsuits.

Questions? We’re Here to Help
HAWS-KM’s attorneys continue to monitor emerging issues and passage of new legislation. If you have questions about how this new development may impact you, please contact the author or your HAWS-KM attorney at (651) 227-9411.

1 Many states also have passed some variation of an executive order that offers immunity to healthcare workers and facilities from COVID-19-related civil suits.
2 Wis. Stat. § 895.476(2)
3 Id.
4 Wis. Stat. § 895.476(3)
5 Noffke ex rel. Swenson v. Bakke, 2009 WI 10, ¶ 36, 315 Wis. 2d 350, 760 N.W.2d 156.
6 Stroede v. Society Ins., 2020 WI App 8, ¶ 12, 390 Wis. 2d 817, 939 N.W.2d 614.

The information contained in this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice on any matter.

The transmission and receipt of information contained on this website, in whole or in part, or communication with HAWS-KM, P.A. or any of its employees via the Internet or e-mail through this website does not constitute or create an attorney/client relationship between us and any recipient. You should not send us any confidential information in response to this website as such information will not be held in confidence. Any communication to this website does not create an attorney/client relationship, and whatever you disclose to us will not be privileged or confidential unless we have agreed to act as your legal counsel in writing. The material on this website may provide information regarding developments in the law but is not legal advice. The content and interpretation of the law addressed on the website is subject to change. HAWS-KM, P.A. disclaims all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken based on any or all the contents of this website to the fullest extent permitted by law. Websites, such as this one, are considered attorney advertising, not legal advice. For legal advice, seek professional legal counsel.