The pandemic has made it hard for many businesses to stay afloat, and sadly, many have not. The last thing businesses, schools, teachers and health care professionals need are lawsuits further slowing their efforts to fight the pandemic and restore our economy.
However, that could be what happens. There’s a real threat of lawsuits filed by people who contract COVID-19. If they believe they contracted the virus in a business, school or health care setting, nothing is stopping them from suing those institutions, even if those institutions took every step needed to prevent the transmission of the virus.
Not only could this be a death blow to those institutions and the jobs they provide, but it also could be a financial bonanza for trial lawyers and, believe me, they know it.
A bill filed in the U.S. Senate called the Safe to Work Act will limit such lawsuits if a business, school or health care facility has taken all the safety precautions necessary to prevent the spread of coronavirus. That includes things like requiring masks and social distancing. Congress must pass this kind of protection for businesses if we’re to have any hope of getting the economy back to some semblance of healthy growth and getting people back to work.
Small businesses today live in fear of lawsuits, and with good reason. Just defending such frivolous lawsuits is enough to put many companies out of business, especially in these perilous economic times. Such a defense can cost $100,000 or more. We cannot afford to let the zeal of attorneys looking to get even richer kill our economic recovery and cost Texans their jobs. The pandemic has done a good enough job of that already.
To qualify, businesses, schools, churches, and other entities must have made reasonable efforts to comply with applicable public health guidelines and not engage in willful misconduct or grossly negligent behavior. That means if an entity hasn’t taken steps to prevent the spread of the virus, they’re still open to lawsuits. Not only does that protect the public and employees, it strongly encourages businesses and other entities to take this seriously and do the right thing.
Businesses crave certainty. There’s not much of that around these days, but this legislation could give them at least a little assurance when it comes to not being sued out of existence because of something they have very little control over. We have a long way to go to get back to where we were economically and to put Texans back to work. We need to take every measure we can to get our economy growing again and kick start job creation. We must take this step to ensure that businesses have the confidence to keep trying to recover.
Without it, many may choose to turn in the keys to their landlord and give up.
Bill Hammond is president and CEO of Texas Employers for Insurance Reform.