Legislation Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington) sponsored to improve the state’s ability to respond to large-scale natural disasters was approved 80-0 Thursday by the General Assembly.
The bill (A-3694), modeled after successful approaches used in 26 other states, would bolster safety inspections in the aftermath of disasters like Sandy, the scale of which can easily overwhelm local governments.
“Whether it is tornadoes in Alabama, earthquakes in California or hurricanes in New Jersey, Good Samaritan laws are critical in ensuring a safe, effective and speedy response to major natural disasters,” said Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington). “By passing a Good Samaritan law in New Jersey, we will better prepare our state to respond rapidly and efficiently to the next Superstorm Sandy.”
Greenwald’s legislation would shield licensed architects and professional engineers from liability when they help local governments respond to major natural disasters.
“When our communities are in crisis after a natural disaster, they need all the help they can get,” Greenwald said. “Yet the potential for massive lawsuits keeps these critically needed volunteers on the sidelines. By enacting a Good Samaritan law, we will promote public safety while greatly strengthening our state’s ability to effectively respond to disasters.”
According to a 2013 article in Crain’s New York Business, nearly 400 architects stood ready to use their professional expertise to assist in assessing storm-damaged properties in New York City days after Superstorm Sandy hit.
But the specter of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in potential lawsuit liability deterred the vast majority from volunteering their assistance, leaving local officials overwhelmed by the scale of the task.
Without a Good Samaritan law, New Jersey faces a similar problem.
In contrast, Alabama’s Good Samaritan law, enacted in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, was crucial in the aftermath of devastating tornadoes that killed 64 people and caused $2.2 billion in damage in April 2011. In response to the devastating category EF-4 tornado, over 200 professionals volunteered nearly 1,300 hours in Tuscaloosa alone, inspecting over 7,000 buildings for safety–critical assistance given the municipality’s limited staff resources.
Under the bill, licensed architects or Professional Engineers would remain liable for the full extent of damages caused by their own acts or omissions that are wanton, willful or grossly negligent.
The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.