S.D. House bill would limit COVID-19 lawsuits

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Pierre Capital Generic

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — People who became infected by COVID-19 in South Dakota wouldn’t be able to sue for damages, unless their illness was the result of intentional exposure with the intent to transmit the disease, the state House of Representatives decided Tuesday.

The legislation now goes to the Senate for action. Republican Mike Diedrich, a lawyer from Rapid City, is the bill’s lead Senate sponsor.

The House vote was 60-10. Opposing it was a mix of some conservative Republicans, several Indian-country Democrats, and a few lawyers from both parties.

Representative David Anderson said the bill had been worked on “close to a year” and was under discussion in the final days of the 2020 session last March. It’s intended to help people who maintain premises or conduct activities, such as businesses, schools, churches and other organizations.

“We’re trying to protect them from frivolous type lawsuits over COVID,” the Hudson Republican said “Nobody know for sure the best way to deal with this.”

A floor amendment from Anderson adding “gross negligence” helped turn a no into a yes from House Democrat leader Jamie Smith of Sioux Falls.

Smith had cast the only vote against HB 1046 in the House State Affairs Committee. That was before the amendment. Smith said he agreed Tuesday there needs to be protection from frivolous lawsuits but not all lawsuits.

“I think it got better with this language,” Smith said.

Anderson said people still can be sued and the protection runs from January 1, 2020, through December 31, 2022, unless it’s extended.

“There’s not permanent protection, it’s just until we get through this COVID-19 issue, and that’s the only issue in the bill,” Anderson said. 

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