Will there be a Phase 4 coronavirus relief bill?
It’s the second full week of May and we could have an answer on that soon. But whether Congress includes a provision that protects business owners from liability lawsuits related to COVID-19 exposure is very much in question.
The White House wants to evaluate the economic impact of reopening first. And as you’ve no doubt heard, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said that without a liability-relief provision, we should expect a “dramatically slow” economic recovery. Democrats want to do more to protect workers in the next big piece of relief legislation.
Either way, business groups want to make sure there’s a higher bar before employees, customers or patients can sue a business owner if they are exposed to or contract COVID-19 while at work.
No one is asking for blanket immunity from lawsuits. Just a bit of liability relief.
Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, summed it up this way:
“If you’re (a business) trying to do the right thing, if you’re following the instructions of (health) officials, then you shouldn’t be kind of second-guessed after the fact.”
The National Federation of Independent Business, which advocates for small business, wants to see employees who contract COVID-19 at work go through the workers’ compensation system — not a lawsuit.
It’s also advocating that customers not be allowed to sue a business unless they can prove it failed to come up with a reasonable plan to reduce the risk of exposure to the disease.
As of this writing, no decision has been made on what the proposal will look like, although several lawmakers are circulating ideas. They have emphasized the point that employers would still have to follow federal and local guidelines, such as keeping people six feet apart.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has released a poll suggesting that the public agrees with barring lawsuits against businesses that have stayed open.
In fact, more than 80 percent of Americans agree that when restaurants, stores and other businesses are allowed to open again, they should be not be “sued by people who claim they contracted the coronavirus at that place of business unless the business was grossly negligent.”
Will there some kind of grand compromise? Will it be reached this week or sometime later? And will it include liability relief? We’ll be watching.
Until then, follow all the guidelines that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and your local health authority recommend — including cleaning equipment regularly and requiring your workers and customers to practice social distancing.
Spencer Mahoney is CCIG’s Executive Vice President. Reach him at Spencer.Mahoney@thinkccig.com or at 720-212-2051.
CCIG is a Denver-area insurance, employee benefits and surety brokerage with clients nationwide. We do more than make sure you have the right policy. We help you manage your long-term cost of insurance with our risk and claims management expertise and a commitment to service excellence.
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