NC enacts liability protection for groups that aid in disasters

CHAPEL HILL

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley has signed into law the Liability Protection for Private Entities Act of 2008, a bill drafted by the NC Division of Public Health to improve state emergency preparedness. This successful effort was spearheaded by the Private/Public Legal Preparedness Initiative at the North Carolina Institute for Public Health, part of the UNC School of Public Health in Chapel Hill.

This new law, which went into effect August 8, 2008, gives businesses and non-profit organizations additional liability protection when they voluntarily assist the state or local governments in carrying out emergency management activities during a declared emergency.

The bill also provides firms, partnerships, associations, and corporations with similar liability protection when engaged in planning, preparation, training, or exercises with the state or local governing body related to the performance of emergency management services or measures.

Gene Matthews, director of the legal preparedness initiative at UNC and former chief legal counsel at CDC, supported passage of this legislation. “This enactment provides a much-needed incentive for the private sector to work more closely with state and local government officials in preparing for the next natural disaster, public health emergency, or intentional event,” he said.

North Carolina becomes the third state recently to enact entity emergency liability protection, following Iowa and Georgia.

A number of developments within the past year have drawn attention to the need for improvements in emergency liability protection for volunteers including:

  • The CDC-sponsored 2007 Legal Preparedness Summit, which resulted in a “National Action Agenda for Public Health Legal Preparedness” that spotlighted the need for improved liability protection.
  • “Ready or Not?”, the annual report prepared by Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), began evaluating each state’s volunteer liability protection status as part of its metrics for scoring emergency preparedness,
  • The Public / Private Legal Preparedness Initiative at the NC Institute for Public Health has been providing leadership under a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to assist states in addressing gaps in liability protection for volunteers in order to improve community preparedness.

The Division of Public Health and the Division of Emergency Management in the NC Department of Health and Human Services will be developing an implementation plan and contacting business and non-profit organizations to discuss next steps to increase the level of emergency preparedness in North Carolina.

Efforts are also underway to provide North Carolina attorneys with legal training on these changes in state law.

Matthews said that at least seventeen other states are currently working on the liability protection issue in view of the 2009 legislative cycle.

website: http://sph.unc.edu/nciph/nciph-home/

Contacts:
UNC School of Public Health, Ramona DuBose, 919-966-7467, Ramona_dubose@unc.edu
NC Institute for Public Health, Bev Holt, 919-966-6274, bev_holt@unc.edu