The Coronavirus pandemic has completely upended normal life in the United States.
Unfortunately, trial lawyers are already lining up in droves to bring lawsuits against essential businesses and services on the frontlines of the Coronavirus response. If unchecked, these trial lawyers stand to make a killing by targeting the vital industries at the most risk of COVID-19 exposure.
Worse yet, these lawsuits could bring down vulnerable businesses, which are already struggling to pay their employees and meet basic expenses during the pandemic. The last thing that these essential businesses need are frivolous lawsuits.
To prevent this predatory litigation, lawmakers should include liability protection for frontline industries in the next Coronavirus relief package.
As Americans are sheltering in place, essential businesses such as grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals, gas stations, and in limited cases restaurants, have stayed open and have exercised abundant caution in protecting employees and customers.
For instance, grocery stores across the country have limited the number of customers that come in and out of the store, and mandated the use of face masks for customers and employees. Companies like Amazon are also enhancing sanitation procedures and distributing personal protective gear to employees.
No matter how careful these businesses may be, the unfortunate reality is that some localized outbreaks could happen where people still gather.
Even so, it is clear that companies are going above and beyond the call of duty in keeping people safe from infection, especially taking into account the unprecedented nature of the pandemic and the fact that there is no cure.
The looming threat of these suits is affecting the ability of frontline workers to help the nation through this crisis. Doctors and nurses are afraid to make tough healthcare decisions, and hospitals and nursing homes are afraid that the quality of their care will come under attack.
The greed of trial lawyers, who will try to make a quick buck by demonizing the good-faith efforts of frontline industries, threatens the ability of industries to effectively respond to the Coronavirus.
Trial lawyers are already swarming to sue the owners of cruise ships, alleging that the industry did not do enough to protect passengers. Frivolous lawsuits aside, the cruise industry is currently losing $92 million and 620 total American jobs each day of the pandemic. If the cruise industry were shut down for a year, 343,000 total American jobs would be lost, along with $51 billion in economic loss.
Walmart is also being targeted for supposed negligence, even though the company recently ordered all of its 1.5 million employees to wear masks.
In reality, it is virtually impossible for an individual to prove that he or she caught the Coronavirus from any specific place, especially considering the widespread impact of the disease and the relative ease of transmission. Despite this, all trial lawyers have to do to win these cases is persuade a jury that is already scared of the Coronavirus and aware of its universal damage, as tort expert Victor Schwartz has argued.
If these specious lawsuits are allowed to prevail, no essential industry is off limits.
In any forthcoming Coronavirus relief package, lawmakers must include liability protection for essential industries from frivolous lawsuits.
This is a bipartisan issue – Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) have spoken out in favor of such reforms.
There is precedent for such a measure – in the CARES Act, lawmakers included liability protection for respiratory devices approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
If left unchecked, the greed of trial lawyers will not only hamper the Coronavirus response, it will upend America’s post-pandemic economic recovery. Frivolous lawsuits will raise healthcare prices, reduce access to treatment and care, hamper the development of a COVID-19 cure, and raise prices on essential goods and services that Americans need to get through the crisis.
The solution is simple: Congress needs to step in to stop trial lawyers from cashing in on the Coronavirus tragedy.