PHOENIX (AP) — Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday signed legislation giving businesses, nursing homes and others a broad shield from lawsuits related to COVID-19, making Arizona the latest state to limit liability after the pandemic.

Republican lawmakers approved the legislation in party-line votes in the House and Senate last week, saying businesses struggled during the pandemic and shouldn’t have to worry about the potential for frivolous lawsuits.

The measure was fiercely opposed by consumer advocates and lawyers, who say it will reward bad actors who flouted health guidance and endangered their workers or the public. They say there’s been no deluge of COVID-19 lawsuits.

Business and medical interest groups have pushed hard for a liability shield since the start of the pandemic. The Arizona bill is one of dozens introduced across the country and in Congress.

Ducey called for the measure in his State of the State address in January.

The bill raises the bar for winning a pandemic-related lawsuits against businesses, health care providers, nursing homes, nonprofits, governments, churches and schools. Instead of proving negligence by a preponderance of the evidence, plaintiffs would have to prove “gross negligence” or “willful misconduct” by clear and convincing evidence.

The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Vince Leach, R-Saddlebrooke, says it was needed to protect businesses and health care providers from frivolous lawsuits.

"Many of these people are on the frontlines of this pandemic," said Leach. "Unfortunately, that means they will be targets of meritless lawsuits. With this bill becoming law this summer, a plaintiff will have the burden to prove by 'clear and convincing evidence that a person or provider failed to act or acted with willful misconduct or gross negligence' in order to win a civil suit."

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