Keenan Briefings


AB 1384 & AB 1759: Bills Intended to Shield Schools from COVID-19 Related Liability Not Moving Forward in Legislature

August 19, 2020

Two bills were introduced in the legislature this year seeking to shield K-12 schools and institutions of higher education that have complied with applicable health and safety requirements from liability for COVID-19-related injuries. AB 1384 (K-12 schools) and AB 1759 (institutes of higher education) were supported by educational institutions and liability pools that have struggled with the risks of reopening in the face of what could be an onslaught of costly litigation. Despite the emergent nature of the bills and the support of many schools and colleges, neither bill received a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee this summer and neither bill will go to a floor vote in the waning weeks of the regular legislative session.

AB 1384 would have required local educational agencies (LEAs) to establish and make reasonable efforts to implement health and safety policies and procedures in a manner consistent with applicable federal, state and local requirements as well as COVID-19 related guidelines published by the State Department of Public Health. It also would have provided limited immunity from civil liability to (LEAs) for injuries related to COVID-19 infection, illness or death. This immunity would not apply to an LEA’s statutory duties regarding workplace safety, disability and family leave, or employment discrimination. It would also not apply in cases of gross negligence or for reckless, intentional, or willful and wanton misconduct.

AB 1759 would have provided limited immunity from civil liability to institutions of higher education for injuries related to COVID-19 infection, illness or death.That immunity would be dependent on the institution having substantially complied with or operated in a manner that was consistent with “applicable public health and safety COVID-19 guidance,” which is defined under the bill to include the following:

  • federal or state regulations, orders or guidance,
  • presidential or gubernatorial executive orders, and
  • orders or guidance provided by applicable local public health agencies, cities, or counties.

The immunity would only apply to causes of action alleged to have been sustained during the time period in which a federal, state or local declaration of emergency related to COVID-19 is in effect. It would not apply to the institution’s existing duties to employees, nor would it apply to claims for damages caused by intentional misconduct, wanton or reckless misconduct, gross negligence, or willful and wanton negligence.

We are hopeful that the legislature can find a way to address this issue. Absent any relief, schools could continue to face added financial pressure as they are already reeling from budgetary cuts and many are borrowing funds. This, while at the same time schools are being required to spend additional unplanned funds on health and safety measures as well as toward resources needed for distance learning.

Keenan & Associates is not a law firm and no opinion, suggestion, or recommendation of the firm or its employees shall constitute legal advice. Clients are advised to consult with their own attorney for a determination of their legal rights, responsibilities and liabilities, including the interpretation of any statute or regulation, or its application to the clients’ business activities.