Attorneys General Call on Congress to Shield Businesses from COVID-19 Lawsuits

By Melanie Arter | May 14, 2020 | 5:58pm EDT
ROME, ITALY - MAY 06: A Cashier at a supermarket works behind a protective perspex barrier while wearing a face mask and gloves as a preventive measure during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis on May 06, 2020 in Rome, Italy. Italy was the first country to impose a nationwide lockdown to stem the transmission of the Coronavirus (Covid-19), and its restaurants, theaters and many other businesses remain closed. (Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images)
ROME, ITALY - MAY 06: A Cashier at a supermarket works behind a protective perspex barrier while wearing a face mask and gloves as a preventive measure during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis on May 06, 2020 in Rome, Italy. Italy was the first country to impose a nationwide lockdown to stem the transmission of the Coronavirus (Covid-19), and its restaurants, theaters and many other businesses remain closed. (Photo by Silvia Lore/Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - A 21-state coalition of Republican attorneys general is calling on Congress to enact liability protections for businesses, non-profits, manufacturers, first responders, health care workers, health care facilities, and law enforcement on the frontlines in the fight against the coronavirus.

“Our economy will only recover if customers, employees and businesses alike have confidence to return to the marketplace,” Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said in a statement. “As attorneys general, we ensure our states have a legal and regulatory environment that protects consumers and allows the free enterprise system to thrive. 

“It is in keeping with this mission that we are calling on Congress to ensure that those businesses that have engaged in best practices and followed federal and state guidance for safe and appropriate operations as a result of this pandemic will be protected from baseless litigation regarding COVID-related claims,” Carr said.

In a letter to Congress, the attorneys general warned that the pandemic is likely to lead to a surge in litigation against “well-intentioned” businesses taking necessary mitigation measures.

“As we reopen our economies, the need for a stable, predictable legal environment has never been greater. The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to create a surge in civil litigation targeting well intentioned businesses for taking pandemic mitigation measures; therefore, this country is in need of a common-sense framework to provide liability protections for much-needed goods and services while still ensuring victims are able to seek legal redress and compensation where appropriate,” they wrote.

“On the one hand, our economy will only recover if customers and employees have the confidence to return to the marketplace, and, on the other, businesses need clearly defined expectations for the safe and appropriate continuance of operations while being protected from devastating civil liability litigation concerning baseless COVID-related claims,” the attorneys general said.

“States across the country have recognized the need for timely, targeted and tailored civil liability protections in light of the pandemic - to date 23 states have enacted liability protections for first responders and healthcare workers,” they wrote.

“In the wake of this unprecedented crisis, the extension of appropriate post-pandemic liability protections is needed at both the state and federal levels for businesses, manufacturers of personal protective equipment, first responders, healthcare workers, healthcare facilities, and members of law enforcement, among others,” they added.

Businesses that willfully engage in misconduct and recklessly and intentionally inflict harm should not be protected though, the attorneys general wrote.

“Civil liability protections should not, however, be extended to businesses engaging in willful misconduct, reckless infliction of harm or intentional infliction of harm. We believe criminal penalties, regulatory fines and agency oversight should be able to capture bad actors and civil lawsuits should be available for any citizens hurt by a business or individual acting with disregard for safety during the COVID-19 pandemic,” they wrote.

“In doing so, we request that these federal liability protections set a foundation for states to build upon. Any federal legislation must preserve states’ autonomy and ability to add additional state tailored protections against frivolous litigation, through state legislation and executive order, based on each one’s unique circumstances,” the attorneys general added.

“Additionally, these civil liability protections should be extended to all businesses and non-profit organizations, without regard to size or for-profit or not-for-profit status, that work in good faith to comply with guidance provided by government authorities and consistent with industry best practices as our states move to restart their economies,” they said.

The letter was signed by attorneys general from Georgia, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.

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