Amendment Creating Employer Liability for Guns in Parking Lots Added to Budget Bill

An amendment that infringes upon the private property rights of Ohio’s business owners and adds liability for all Ohio’s property was added by the Senate to House Bill 49, the state’s operating budget. This amendment creates a new civil penalty for violation of ORC 2923.1210 that was passed last year allowing individuals to store firearms in their privately-owned vehicles on employer property, and frankly any other private property, under certain circumstances. Simply put, this subjects employers and property owners to this significant unfettered civil liability.

Senate Bill 199, that was passed at the end of last year, bans employers from having a policy that prohibits, or has the effect of prohibiting, a person with a valid concealed handgun license from transporting or storing a firearm or ammunition in their privately-owned vehicle if the firearm and ammunition are locked in the trunk or closed compartment and the vehicle is in a location where it is permitted to be. This already vague law has left employers, and all property owners, with numerous questions regarding what is and isn’t legal under the law. For example, can an employer have a secured parking lot if they provide parking for those who wish to have firearms in their vehicles or would this have the “effect” of prohibiting a person from transporting their firearm? Was this intended to apply only to handguns, as the reference to a concealed handgun license would indicate, or does it apply to the broader category of any firearm? As you can see, there are still numerous questions to be fleshed out about the current law given that it has only been in effect for three months.

However, the new amendment to the budget would create serious civil penalties for violating the law that is already on the books. Bear in mind, these apply well beyond the employer/employee relationship to any individual in any vehicle as long as they are in a place they are otherwise permitted to be. The amendment allows any individual who is “injured”, though that term is not defined in the statute, to file a civil action against any business entity, property owner, or public or private employer who violates the already vague provisions of the current law. Injury, since it is not defined, could be interpreted very broadly and have significant unintended consequences. Further, a court could award compensatory damages, equitable relief, injunctive relief and, if the individual wins, the business or property owner could be stuck paying their attorneys’ fees and court costs. As you can imagine, any time attorneys’ fees can be awarded, there tends to be more litigation in that area of the law.

Creating a new way to file a lawsuit against employers and private property owners is a step backward for Ohio’s legal climate. This amendment greatly impacts civil liability for business owners and private property owners and should be vetted in stand-alone legislation. To contact your legislator regarding this important issue, please CLICK HERE.