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Gov. Mike Parson and the Missouri Legislature want to shield hospitals and businesses against COVID-19 lawsuits.

It's a tough situation that requires a careful balance.

There is merit to blocking baseless suits, but we shouldn't block the public's ability to seek grievance for cases that do have merit.

We need to do everything we can to keep our businesses open and our economy thriving. Many businesses have shuttered, and many others are struggling to stay in business.

We also need to encourage businesses, especially health care providers, to seek solutions that are in the best interest of the public, without fear of litigation. That could mean hospitals seeking creative solutions to handle growing patient loads, for example, rather than simply turning people away.

As we previously reported, Parson called for the current special session to be expanded to include several different kinds of liability protections for health care providers, manufacturers and other businesses, and other organizations related to their responses in a declared state of emergency, such as the one currently in place for the pandemic.

"None of these groups should be penalized for their efforts to respond to a declared state of emergency," the governor said. "They must be able to continue operating and serving the public without risk of unnecessary and senseless claims."

Specifically, Parson wants liability protection for health care providers; product liability protection for designers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers; and premises liability protection for exposure claims.

The summary describes any health care provider who is deployed by the governor or another state agency during an emergency is not liable for civil damages or administrative sanctions for "any failure to exercise the skill and learning of an ordinarily careful health care provider in similar circumstances in the delivery of such health care."

The bill would add "nondelivery of such health care" under that umbrella of protection. That could cover situations where hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and may have to triage care, deciding who's treated and who's not, for example.

Even in a special session in which time is of the essence, the Legislature should take the time to do this deliberately and properly. That means seeking input from the public and working in a bipartisan way to craft legislation that arrives at fair solutions.

The legislation needs to protect citizens while providing a basic net of protection for businesses. As the pandemic evolves, lawmakers should re-examine the protections, making refinements as needed.

News Tribune

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