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South Carolina Governor Signs Bill to Protect Small Businesses

June 29, 2021 by Ansley Puckett
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster at the National Governors Association Winter Meeting in Washington. (Photo by Dan McCue)

COLUMBIA, S.C.- South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill on June 24 that protects small businesses from COVID-related lawsuits.  

The South Carolina COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor Act provides legal immunity to businesses, health care facilities and state agencies that reasonably followed public health guidelines at the time a coronavirus-related claim arose. 

“South Carolina’s businesses and medical professionals stood on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic adapting to ever-changing safety measures to protect their employees, customers, and community,” McMaster said. “As they protected us, it is now time we return the favor and protect them from frivolous lawsuits brought on by COVID-19.” 

In April, McMaster wrote a letter urging the General Assembly to pass the bill without delay so that he could sign it into law. Currently, around 39 states have adopted some degree of COVID-19 liability protection. 

The act will provide immunity unless there is clear evidence that a business or medical provider caused damage from intentional, negligent or reckless conduct. The immunity covers the start of the declared pandemic on March 13, 2020, and ends 180 days after the final State of Emergency on Dec. 3. 

Small business owners like Nikki O’Connell, who owns Stingray Boats in Hartsville, S.C., are pleased that the bill will protect the state’s small businesses. 

“I think it’s great what he’s doing to protect small businesses,” O’Connell said. “Those kinds of protections are keeping businesses open when they might otherwise need to close just for liability sake.” 

Although O’Connell’s business mostly deals with manufacturing, the business owner said it’s especially important for retailers to have protections against coronavirus-related lawsuits. 

“There is always an inherent liability in operating a business, and the spread of COVID-19 has become something that is prohibiting businesses from being able to operate,” she said. “So, keeping the doors open and keeping folks at work is exceptionally important to every small business but especially retail businesses where they have to invite the general public in just to be able to operate.”  

According to a statement from Ben Homeyer, the South Carolina state director of The National Federation of Independent Business, the cost of defending itself against an “unwarranted claim” could be enough to close a small business.  

South Carolina’s small businesses are tough and determined, and they did everything they could to keep the doors open and protect the welfare of their customers and employees during the pandemic, but owners are worried that trial lawyers will try to exploit the pandemic for financial gain,” Homeyer said.  

Shannon Strickland, who owns Strickland Heating and Air with her husband in Eutawville, S.C., said their business took every measure to protect clients against COVID-19 and is glad the South Carolina COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor Act will protect other businesses that did the same.  

“I think it’s a great step to help protect those that have continued working through the whole pandemic, that haven’t stopped,” Strickland said. “People have to make money to survive, and with a lot of businesses that have shut down, they weren’t able to make up their livelihood, which is sad. Now that some restrictions are easing, if not completely going away, they can get back to what they do best.”  

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