During the recently completed special session, the Idaho Legislature adopted temporary legislation extending immunity to businesses, churches, cities, counties, and schools from claims associated with the transmission of coronavirus. The immunity is temporary because it sunsets (expires) on July 1, 2021. Over the course of two days, five different immunity bills were introduced. While each bill would have provided some form of immunity, some were narrower in scope than others, including bills that would have extended only qualified immunity contingent upon following state or local public health orders. At the end of the day, House Bill 6 was the only bill adopted and was signed into law by Governor Little.
House Bill 6 extends limited immunity from civil liability for damages or injury resulting from exposure of an individual to coronavirus. The limited immunity is granted whether or not state or local public health orders are followed. The limited liability does not apply if the exposure occurs due to willful or reckless misconduct. Willful or reckless misconduct is defined as conduct in which a person makes a conscious choice as to the person’s course of conduct under circumstances in which the person knows or should know that such conduct both creates an unreasonable risk of harm to another and involves a high probability that such harm will actually result (Section 6-1601, Idaho Code). While the limited liability applies to counties and other local units of government, it does not apply to the federal government or its agencies, the State of Idaho or its agencies, or to public health districts.
It is important to note that the limited immunity from civil liability applies only to exposure of coronavirus and not secondary effects. While House Bill 6 only applies to exposure of coronavirus, the Idaho Tort Claims Act does extend other immunities to government officials acting within the course and scope of their employment. Section 6-904, Idaho Code, specifically provides immunity for government officials and employees while acting within the scope of their employment and without malice intent. The immunity includes protection from liability arising:
Full House Bill 6 information can be accessed on the Legislature’s website here: https://legislature.idaho.gov/sessioninfo/2020spcl/legislation/H0006/. As with any legal matter, please consult with your prosecuting attorney’s office for more information about the impact of House Bill 6 or the Idaho Tort Claims Act on potential county liability.