Keenan Briefings

Briefings

AB 1384: Proposed Bill Addresses School District COVID-19 Liability

July 07, 2020

On June 29, 2020, Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach) introduced AB 1384, a bill intended to address the liability concerns of school districts that are being asked to re-open during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill applies to local educational agencies (LEAs), which are defined for purposes of this legislation as school districts, county offices of education (COEs), schools operated by a school district or COE, charter schools, the California Schools for the Deaf and the California School for the Blind. Based on this language, it does not appear that the legislation would apply to community colleges.

The bill requires a LEA to establish policies and procedures for operating programs and facilities in a manner (1) consistent with applicable federal, state, and local legal and regulatory COVID-19-related requirements; and (2) that takes into consideration COVID-19-related guidelines from federal, state, and local government entities and public health agencies. While all LEAs would strive to do so, this could be a tall order. Those guidelines and regulations are numerous, voluminous, and have changed (and may continue to change) rapidly.

If an LEA meets the standard set forth above, there will be no cause of action for damage or monetary liability against an LEA or its officers or employees for injury relating to COVID-19 infection, any condition in existence because of the COVID-19 pandemic, or any act or omission by the LEA or its officers or employees in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This partial immunity from liability would include but not be limited to claims for injury, death, emotional distress, economic loss, or violation of civil liberties, notwithstanding any law that might impose that liability. It does not apply to injured employees whose claims would still be handled through workers’ compensation. The immunity would apply to causes of action for injuries alleged to have been sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic or during the 12 months following the end of any state of emergency relating to COVID-19.

We note that this immunity does not preclude claims seeking non-monetary relief. And, as a state law, it could not preclude claims brought under federal statutes and regulations. Moreover, if this bill were to be enacted, plaintiffs could still file suit alleging that the LEA failed to establish policies or procedures that meet the standard set forth in the law. So, while the law provides some liability protections, LEAs may still incur significant defense for some COVID-related suits.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and will have its first hearing after July 13, 2020, when legislators return from their abbreviated summer recess. The bill appears to have been crafted with an eye toward passage by a majority Democratic legislature that has not in recent years been eager to place limits on civil liability for injuries.

Both the California School Boards Association (CSBA) and the California Association of Joint Powers Authorities (CAJPA) have been involved in the development of this bill.

To support LEAs as they establish policies and procedures for operating programs and facilities, Keenan has partnered with Forensic Analytical Consulting Services, Inc. (FACS), one of the country’s leading and most diverse industrial hygiene consulting firms, to provide a COVID-19 safe operating program template. The template will be offered to our customers at no cost. Keenan & FACS have also created a Program Customization and Implementation Effectiveness Evaluation service to help customers make the most of the template as well as to help manage the risk of operating safely amid COVID-19.

A copy of AB 1384 as introduced on June 29, 2020 can be found at the link below.

http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200AB1384

We will keep close watch over the continuing development of this legislation. In the interim, if you have any questions about this Briefing, please contact your Keenan Loss Control Consultant or Account Manager.


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.