By Jamie Huffman Jones
Governor Asa Hutchinson issued three Executive Orders on Monday, June 15, 2020, in response to the public health crisis posed by COVID-19. Below is a summary of Executive Order 20-33.
Governor Asa Hutchinson signed Executive Order 20-33, which provides certain immunities for general negligence related to COVID-19. The Order finds as a matter of public policy that Arkansas business owners are “fearful of opening their business or keeping them open during the COVID-10 outbreak because of the threat of litigation arising from alleged exposure to COVID-19. . . .”
An immunity is designed to protect the designated individuals or entities from being sued, and to decrease the costs of litigation associated with lawsuits. Under EO-33, the immunity will not apply if there is willful, reckless, or intentional misconduct resulting in injury or damages. In such cases, the designated individuals or entities would be required to litigate the claim against them. However, it will be presumed that the actions are not willful, reckless, or intentional misconduct so long as the person is substantially complying with the health and safety directives or guidelines issued by the Governor or by the Secretary of the Department of Health or is acting in good faith while attempting to comply with stated health and safety directives or guidelines.
Further, this immunity does not extend to Workers’ Compensation benefits paid by or on behalf of an employer to an employee under the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Law, or a comparable workers’ compensation law of another jurisdiction and E0-35 should be consulted when analyzing coverage under the Workers’ Compensation framework. This Executive Order applies to all actions, lawsuits, or claims filed after June 15, 2020, and shall automatically expire when the emergency is terminated.
With the trio of Executive Orders found in EO-33, -34, and -35, Arkansas joins states including North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming in providing similar immunities for businesses. If you have questions about the immunity provided under EO-33 or business liability during the COVID-19 pandemic, please contact us.
Jamie Huffman Jones is a partner in the Litigation Practice Group and a member of the Firm’s Management Committee. Jamie advocates for clients in jury and bench trials involving a variety of claims, including mass tort, catastrophic injury, wrongful death, business and commercial disputes, class actions, and automotive commercial disputes.
Disclaimer: The information included here is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for legal advice nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel. For more information or if you have further questions, please contact one of our Attorneys.
Attorney Caitlin D. Kennedy contributed to this article.