Corporations and consumer groups battle over COVID-19 liability; Few lawsuits filed so far

Roll Call
Thursday, May 21, 2020

Businesses say they need protection from the uncertainty of "frivolous" lawsuits as they seek to help revive the economy, but consumer groups allege corporations pushing for new limits on the legal rights of people who get sick with COVID-19 are exploiting the pandemic.
The proposal for a coronavirus liability limit in the next pandemic relief bill has revived a long-standing Beltway battle between advocates for workers and employers about so-called tort reform — business groups' campaign to limit certain legal rights. 
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers are pushing lawmakers to restrict lawsuits brought on behalf of people who get sick or die or are otherwise harmed after exposure to the novel coronavirus. Nearly 95,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.
President Donald Trump said Tuesday he supports “curbs on frivolous litigation … a thing I know something about. There’s a lot of frivolous litigation.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called a new liability limit an imperative "red line" priority for Republicans in an upcoming relief package. McConnell said the flood of lawsuits could amount to a “second pandemic” and that he won't accept Democratic demands such as state and local government aid without liability protections.
The idea that lawsuits will increase because of the pandemic is a “red herring,” countered Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice & Democracy.
Lawsuits are already difficult to bring because of the stealthy way the virus spreads, she said. Without widespread testing and contract tracing, it's hard to pinpoint infections. Front-line employees most exposed to the coronavirus face challenges suing their employers because of the workers' compensation system, which preclude a worker from suing an employer in most cases.
But, Doroshow says, “it’s important that the law be there because it ensures some accountability and provides confidence to the public, consumers and society.
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