Among the issues Congress is considering as it continues to wrestle with the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is whether companies should receive liability protections during these unprecedented times. The National Federation of Independent Business has proposed four “Liability Protection Principles” that it believes should be implemented to specifically protect the interests of small businesses. The Principles can be found here.
The group proposes: (1) the worker’s compensation system as the exclusive vehicle to adjudicate COVID-19 claims of workers; (2) business protections from customer claims unless the customer can prove injury and that a business knowingly failed to develop a reasonable plan for reducing exposure to COVID-19; (3) lawsuits only be allowed for persons with “a serious physical injury due to COVID-19 resulting in hospitalization”; and (4) that fines be imposed on “unscrupulous trial attorneys bringing frivolous COVID-19-related lawsuits.”
Worker and consumer advocate groups have opposed these types of measures. They argue that legislation granting any form of nationwide immunity for businesses will allow them to operate in an unsafe manner without appropriate consequences. Those in favor of these liability protections argue that without them, business liabilities could overwhelm the worker's compensation system and the courts with claims of little or no merit.
Like most issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, this situation is fluid and the outlook is uncertain. We will be tracking these developments and will report on them in future client alerts.