FILE - Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb

(The Center Square) – Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a bill into law Thursday giving legal immunity to businesses for damages “arising from COVID-19.”

The bill had originally provided total immunity from all civil suits related to COVID-19, but was narrowed to specify the legal immunity only covers torts – claims related to wrongful acts that caused injury to another person – and not suits related to contracts, such as leases or other business contracts.

It was also narrowed to say immunity would only cover suits “arising” from COVID-19, and not just those that may be “related” to COVID-19, as in the original bill.

Giving businesses protection from COVID-19 lawsuits was a priority of Republicans in Indiana this year.

“The pandemic has affected Hoosier businesses, schools and others in ways no one could have foreseen just one year ago,” said Holcomb in his announcement of his signing of the bill. “To aid in the state’s recovery, I made providing assurances that they will not have to live and work in fear of frivolous lawsuits a part of my Next Level Agenda. Most Hoosier businesses and other organizations are making good faith attempts to protect their customers and employees, because it is the right thing to do and it makes for better business in the long run. I want to thank lawmakers for rapidly passing this key piece of legislation and sending it to my desk for signature.”

The protection from lawsuits will cover all types of businesses, including restaurants, bars, stores, hospitals and nursing homes, and will also cover schools and government offices.

It will prevent all class-action lawsuits related to damages arising from COVID-19.

“We are very appreciative that the legislature and governor acted so quickly to provide businesses and other institutions with civil liability protection related to COVID-19 lawsuits,” Kevin Brinegar, president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “Hoosier businesses that follow accepted COVID-19 safety guidelines should not be subject to litigation that could devastate their companies – many of which are already struggling financially.”

The Indiana law makes an exception for any act or omission that amounts to “gross negligence” or “willful or wanton misconduct” including “fraud” and “intentionally tortious acts.”

The law includes manufacturers of personal protective equipment and other COVID-related products, including hand-sanitizer and all medications used to treat COVID-19 “including medications prescribed or dispensed for off-label use…”

The Senate bill was authored by Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford and by Sen. Liz-Brown, R-Fort Wayne.

The legal immunity is retroactive to March 1, 2020, and extends through Dec. 31, 2024 -- a period of more than three-and-a-half years.