Congress Tries to Protect Employers From Lawsuits Tied to Coronavirus
WASHINGTON – Industry and legal experts told the U.S. Senate Tuesday that the coronavirus pandemic is creating liabilities that are not adequately addressed by existing laws and regulations.
As a result, business owners are running up against hundreds of lawsuits that are slowing the nation’s economic recovery.
Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, called the nearly 1,000 court claims filed so far this year “a tidal wave of lawsuits” during the hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Senate is considering proposals for national standards to protect businesses from lawsuits by employees and customers during the pandemic.
Many business owners want to reopen but risk getting sued if their employees or customers are exposed to increased risk of infection and illness. Others say some of the lawsuits are attempts to get settlement money despite no proof of damages.
Meanwhile, unemployment has risen to the highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s and the nation’s economy is nosediving from widespread economic loss.
“We shouldn’t be punished for fulfilling our duty to stay open,” said Kevin Smartt, chief executive officer of Texas-based Kwik Chek Convenience Stores.
He agreed the health of employees and customers is important but added, “None of us could protect against every risk of infection.”
One proposal in Congress would exempt businesses from nearly all liability related to coronavirus.
A second more popular proposal would protect them from getting sued only if they meet standards of new workplace health and safety guidelines.
Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed some kind of legal protection is needed to fully reopen the U.S. economy.
They recommended that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration jointly establish national coronavirus guidelines.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said the guidelines need to be “specific COVID-related standards.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said the alternative to liability protection is likely to be further business failures.
“What I want to do is make sure we don’t have to go into bankruptcy any more than we have to,” Graham said.
However, a labor leader cautioned that extending the protection too far could create an incentive for employers to inadequately protect workers.
“We believe that would exacerbate some of the outlaw employers we have in this country,” said Marc Perrone, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
He added, “We must not provide a blanket of immunity that guarantees some of these workers would be taken advantage of.”
David Vladeck, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., said Congress needed to avoid enacting an immunity from liability for employers that conflicts with state laws on the same issue.
“Legislation that simply displaces state liability laws is not only unprecedented it is probably unconstitutional,” Vladeck said.
In The News
WASHINGTON - Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., surprised many on Capitol Hill Monday by announcing he will not seek a third term in the U.S. Senate. Blunt was widely expected to seek a third term in 2022, but in a video announcment, he suggested the time had... Read More
WASHINGTON (AP) — With President Joe Biden on the verge of his first big legislative victory, a key moderate Democrat says he's open to changing Senate rules that could allow for more party-line votes to push through other parts of the White House's agenda such as... Read More
WASHINGTON - The Senate on Saturday afternoon narrowly passed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package with a 50-49 vote down party lines, moving the rescue plan one step closer to President Joe Biden’s desk. The package, settled on after hours and hours of delays and Senate... Read More
WASHINGTON – A new study suggests the deeper a member of Congress’s local roots in their congressional district, the less likely they are to attract a primary challenger, and if they do, the more likely they are to win by a significant margin. The study, published... Read More
WASHINGTON - Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., a House manager in Donald Trump’s last impeachment trial,, filed a civil lawsuit on Friday against the former president and others whose words and actions, he claims, led directly to January’s riot at the U.S. Capitol. The lawsuit which was... Read More
WASHINGTON -- Islands that fall under U.S. protection asked Congress for help Thursday from the climate change that is making their shores sink into the ocean and subjecting them to devastating hurricanes. With so little land compared with the U.S. mainland, they are suffering some of... Read More