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Senators Pushing to Shield Businesses from COVID-19 Liability

Published on Aug 26, 2020 at 3:53 pm in News.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact day to day life across the country, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform is focusing on ensuring businesses don’t face legal penalties related to the pandemic.

According to The Washington Post, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform wrote draft legislation designed to shield companies from liability related to the pandemic. On Capitol Hill, the legislation received ardent defense from Senate Republicans.

The decision to draft legislation comes as the Chamber prepares for an influx of lawsuits related to the pandemic. Matthew Webb, senior vice president for legal reform policy at the Chamber, believes taking action now is better than waiting for cases to be filed.

The draft legislation, as it currently exists, sets a high bar for coronavirus lawsuits. It also ensures that the Chamber-proposed language would take precedence over plaintiff-friendly state laws.

The Chamber worked closely with Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senator John Cornyn (R-Tex.) on the liability reforms. A spokesperson for Cornyn stated that his office distributed a first draft on May 6 and started working on COVID-19 liability issues two months before the Chamber.

While Webb did not respond to The Washington Post for comment, Harold Kim, president of the Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, emailed the following statement: “Just like every other advocacy organization, we publicly identified major areas of litigation risk and offered solutions to policymakers that were timely, targeted, and temporary.”

According to The Washington Post, liability protections have become a sticking point in stalled negotiations. Senate Republicans have said they will refuse to negotiate. In regard to the concept of coronavirus liability, McConnell said, “Tying kids, jobs, and healthcare all together, Senator Cornyn has authored strong legal liability protections so that nurses, doctors, charities, school districts, colleges, and employers can spend their next months actually reopening rather than fighting for their lives against frivolous lawsuits.”

If the legislation were to pass, a higher standard of evidence would be needed than a traditional civil lawsuit, requiring clear and convincing evidence. In addition to that, state laws would take precedence if they were to restrict liability even more than the national bill. If, however, businesses are found to have acted recklessly, they can still be penalized for gross negligence.

The Chamber of Commerce has also been working with another corporate lobbying group—the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The ALEC encourages states to adopt laws limiting corporate liability for COVID-19 exposure.

Currently, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada have enacted laws protecting companies from some litigation related to the pandemic. A dozen others have proposed measures, as well.

According to an online track of legal complaints developed by the Hunton Andrews Kurth law firm, approximately 4,280 claims have been filed relating to the coronavirus. The complaints are in regard to insurance, civil rights, prison confinement, and labor and employment. That total is expected to continue to rise.