Bill Aims to Provide Protection from Frivolous Lawsuits during Health Crisis

By on August 14, 2020

Students, Families would not be able to sue schools for any coronavirus-related illnesses or damages under new legislation moving through the Senate.

Assembly Bill 1834, authored by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), would make it difficult for parents or guardians to sue school districts for having cases or outbreaks occur at local schools.

O’Donnell, who chairs the Education Committee in the California Assembly and is a high school history teacher, said his bill will help protect districts from COVID-19-related lawsuits as they try to reopen this fall.

“We need to do everything we can to protect the students, and the schools,” O’Donnell said. “My bill will indemnify (protect from lawsuits) school districts as long as they follow all the state and local health directives. We still want school districts to use best practices when it comes to student safety.”

Many Democrats disagree and have voted against holding a discussion or providing California schools with liability insurance.

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Republican Senator Brian Dahle (Bieber) requested a motion to withdraw Assembly Bill 1384 from the committee in order to allow the California State Senate members to engage in a full discussion on whether schools should be provided with liability protection during the current COVID-19 emergency order.

“Schools, primarily in rural areas, don’t have the infrastructure to provide distance learning, which hurts students’ ability to learn. Many of the schools throughout my district are grappling with opening for in-person instruction, and one of the sticking points is liability insurance. Assembly Bill 1384 would provide schools with that protection, but it is currently stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee. That needs to change,” said Senator Dahle.

Coauthored by Republican Senator Andreas Borgeas (Fresno) said if not passed California school districts may have their budgets greatly impacted, which could lead to layoffs and more program reductions as they have to deal with another avoidable budget crisis.

“When schools reopen they should do so without the cloud of lawsuits looming overhead. Legal protections for schools and businesses should be legislatively created for the duration of the state of emergency so long as they are in compliance with state and local health rules,” said Senator Borgeas.