Bill limits contractor liability in disaster response

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced legislation (S. 1761) to protect government contractors from tort liability that might otherwise arise from their work for disaster relief agencies. The bill is intended to block most lawsuits against contactors responding to Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters over their assistance to federal, state and local officials.

The legislation does not, however, prevent contractors from facing enforcement action that any federal, state or local agency might bring concerning their performance. All environmental, safety and health, labor and ethics laws still would apply, and contractors would be fully liable for any personal injury or property damage that resulted from any recklessness or willful misconduct.

“This legislation will enable contractors to continue their long practice of helping the government deal with national disasters without the risk of becoming the target of the next class action,” said Associated General Contractors CEO Stephen Sandherr. “We think it is important for companies aiding government rescue, recovery and reconstruction to have some reasonable measure of protection from the risk of future litigation for providing essentially public services in a time of crisis.”