HB 379, AIA Ohio’s proposal that would provide civil immunity for architects, engineers, and surveyors who provide services during a declared emergency was amended during a hearing of the House Commerce, Labor and Technology Committee to include the volunteer services provided by a contractor or tradesperson. The bill’s Sponsor, Rep. Louis Blessing III said the “wanton and willful misconduct” clause remains in the bill.
Andrea Ashley, vice president of government relations for Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Ohio, offered proponent testimony for the bill and the amendment that was accepted. Ashley said when construction is needed in emergency situations, “there should not be anything to make the construction industry hesitate to respond to help and possibly save lives.”
“Construction companies do the right thing when facing disasters and emergencies by bringing equipment, knowledge and people to the affected area,” Ashley said. “They volunteer their knowledge and resources to help people and want to be able to contribute in the same way in the future. The fear of lawsuits should not make construction contractors hesitate, or decide not to assist in times of need.”
Angela Van Fossen, director of legislative affairs for the Ohio Contractors Association (OCA), offered proponent testimony for the bill and the accepted amendment.
“It is no surprise that our contractors and their employees are often asked to provide their professional services during emergencies,” Van Fossen said. “The addition of this amendment would ensure their ability to confidently answer yes, without undue liability concerns, when requested to assist a community during an emergency.”
Chairman Young asked about the Norwalk flooding and OCA’s involvement in that cleanup process. Van Fossen said OCA’s members participated in the cleanup on a “purely voluntary” basis, so if there was an accident they would not have been covered.
Rep. R. Hagan asked a question about permanent structure, like a bridge, built during emergencies. He asked if years later, contractors could be held liable for faulty structures built under those circumstances. Van Fossen said contractors normally help with cleanup, and are not building permanent structures.
Blessing III said it would be difficult to prove that it occurred, while Young said he “could not imagine” a situation in which something permanent like a bridge would be built during an emergency without a contract.
Hagan asked for an amendment dealing with the issue, and Blessing III said he would not be opposed to including language concerning that possible situation.
John Van Doorn, an attorney with the Ohio Association for Justice (OAJ), said his office would need a day or two to come up with language addressing it. He said a clever attorney could claim a structure was “conceived” during an emergency. “It is a stretch, but it’s possible,” Van Doorn said.
Young said the vote would be put off until the next hearing to give time for the drafting of this amendment.
Melinda Gilpen, executive director of Professional Land Surveyors of Ohio, offered proponent testimony.
“Our position supports the efforts to protect volunteers from potential claims against them when acting in good faith and without compensation,” Gilpen said.