Federal legislation introduced to protect contractors responding to disasters

Legislation introduced on Sept. 8 in the U.S. House of Representatives includes measures to protect contractors responding to declared federal, state and local emergencies or disasters.

The “good Samaritan” legislation, highly praised by the Associated General Contractors of America, would give contractors qualified immunity from liability when providing services in volunteer situations such as the Hurricane Katrina aftermath.

“When construction expertise is needed, there should not be anything to make the construction industry hesitant in responding to help and possibly save lives and property,” said Stephen Sandherr, chief executive of AGC.

In New York City after 9/11, contractors brought equipment and expertise to Ground Zero without the protection of a state good Samaritan statute, said Kelley Keeler, senior director of public affairs for AGC. “Lawsuits against contractors in the aftermath of 9/11 led to this legislation,” she said. “Construction contractors were just trying to help. Terrorists caused the problem.”

As Congress begins to look at more Hurricane Katrina legislation in the next two weeks, the good Samaritan legislation should get extra attention. “I think there is a good chance that it will get pushed through,” Keeler said.

If approved, the law would not cover gross negligence or willful misconduct. Those protected under the bill would be providing assistance at the direction of a public official acting in an official capacity. According to AGC, many states already have a good Samaritan statutes on the books, but they do not protect contractors.