Amid the chaos brought upon by the pandemic, business groups yet again called out the Congress for lack of legislation needed to protect small to mid-size enterprises from “unfair and opportunistic” lawsuits.
As more states across the U.S. gradually reopen, business owners find themselves in trouble against possible legal cases related to coronavirus, especially without the needed liability immunity bill.
Chris Purcell, a restaurateur based in North Carolina, for instance, told CNBC that the current situation restaurateurs and other business owners like him scares him. “There is no way to prove or disprove that someone did or did not catch it in any particular location,” Purcell said.
Such troubles pushed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in late-May to send an open letter to the Congress, addressing the issue and possible repercussions if not given attention.
Businesses want protection against ‘opportunistic’ COVID-19 lawsuits
In an open letter sent by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and was signed by more than 200 trade groups, the organization urged the Congress to grant businesses the protection it needs against coronavirus-related lawsuits.
Specifically, the group asked for “temporary and targeted relief legislation” that would defend businesses from “unfair and opportunistic” suits.
The said groups demand protection not only for business owners but also for non-profit organizations, educational institutions, healthcare providers, and public companies.
The International Franchise Association had followed suit as well. The organization reportedly collected 7,000 signatures from its members in defense of possible lawsuits against small businesses.
“Amid the economic crisis and just having stood up your business, having been shut down for a long time, and now having to face lawsuits because someone got sick, […] you end up in a situation of near hopelessness,” said Robert Cresanti CEO and president of IFA, per CNBC.
Rising number of complaints alarmed trade groups
Since the first week of May, Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP law firm tracked a total of 1,300 cases associated with the pandemic, while 2,600 claims have been filed this year.
Business groups argued that the number is only the tip of the iceberg.
Linda Kelly, the general counsel of the Association of Manufacturers, told The Hill that the cases are most likely “trial balloons” and that she is expecting coronavirus-related suits to multiply in the coming weeks and months.
The president of the United States’ Chamber Institute for Legal Reform Harold Kim has also echoed Kelly’s sentiment.
In a statement, Kim said:
“If you got a tidal wave of lawsuits, it is going to be too late by then. That is why there has to be a timely effort by Congress to enact something. It is the uncertainty that a lot of businesses are faced with.”
It is up between Democrats and Republicans
It appears that the passage of the bill still depends on the two parties. Previously, senior republicans want to pass the liability immunity bill. Democrats, however, had voiced out their objection concerning the proposal.
Julia Duncan, senior director of government affairs, shared with The Hill that she is not convinced that Democrats will support the legislation. She also mentioned that “there is not a wave of litigation” as opposed to trade groups’ argument.
Last May, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Senate Republicans that she is open for negotiation about the $3 trillion aid but did not talk anything about the possible liability immunity bill.