Legislation sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, Assemblyman Paul Moriarty and Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula to improve the state’s ability to respond to large-scale natural disasters was passed 35-0 by the Senate on Monday, giving it final legislative approval.
The bill (A-2025) would bolster safety inspection capacity in the aftermath of disasters like Superstorm Sandy – the scale of which can easily overwhelm local governments – by shielding licensed architects and professional engineers from liability when they volunteer to help local governments respond to major natural disasters.
“Whether it’s 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.”
“Not having this protection deters many of these professionals from volunteering their services in times of critical need, which unduly restricts our ability to quickly and effectively provide safety inspections after a large-scale disaster,” said Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). “We cannot afford to go without such valuable assistance when the next big storm hits.”
“These are professionals who are willing to volunteer their time, expertise and services to help rebuild communities that have been damaged by major natural disasters,” said Chivukula (D-Middlesex/Somerset). “With the weather expected to become even more severe in the future, it would be wise to have people with expertise who are ready and able to help when the time comes.”
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, according to a 2013 Crain’s New York Business article. 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.
In contrast, Alabama’s Good Samaritan law, enacted in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, was crucial in the aftermath of devastating tornadoes that in April 2011 killed 64 people and caused $2.2 billion in damage. 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 would take effect immediately.
The legislation was approved 78-0 in May by the Assembly. It now heads to the governor’s desk.