The COVID-19 pandemic has been raging through the United States for over six months. As schools and businesses slowly begin reopening across the country, there has been a lot of debate about whether businesses owe their clients any duty of care when it comes to the virus, and what that level of care should be. In other words, what happens if you contract COVID-19 from a place of business, or while you’re at work? Is it fair to hold businesses accountable?
The United States Chamber of Commerce doesn’t think so, and is currently drafting legislation to protect business owners in the event their employees contract the virus while performing their jobs. The legislation is designed to be business-friendly and cut down on “frivolous lawsuits.” Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John Cornyn (R-TX) worked closely with the Chamber on this legislation.
Said Majority Leader McConnell to the Washington Post, “Tying kids, jobs, and healthcare all together, Senator Cornyn has authored strong legal liability protections so that nurses, doctors, charities, school districts, colleges, and employers can spend their next months actually reopening rather than fighting for their lives against frivolous lawsuits.”
What is The Safe To Work Act?
On July 27, 2020, Senator Cornyn introduced Senate Bill 4371 – Safeguarding America’s Frontline Employees to Offer Work Opportunities Required to Kickstart the Economy Act, or the “Safe to Work Act.” The bill creates certain protections for businesses related to coronavirus exposure and medical liability claims. It’s important to note that this bill does not provide complete immunity – businesses and providers that are grossly negligent or act under willful misconduct can still be held accountable. Additionally, state and Oklahoma workers’ compensation law still remains in effect.
Matthew Webb, the senior vice president for legal reform policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, explained during a teleconference uploaded to YouTube why it’s important to put this legislation in place now instead of later. “What we’re concerned about, and advocating for with Congress, is you don’t want to wait until all the cases are filed … you have to deal with this beforehand.”
Public opinion on legal protections
Back in April, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute of Legal Reform (ILR) reached out to registered voters via a national telephone survey to discover public opinion on this matter. The majority of survey respondents support coronavirus lawsuit protections for businesses.
When asked if Congress should protect businesses and companies from lawsuits filed related to the coronavirus, 61 percent of respondents said they support those protections, and 27 percent said they oppose them. Eighty-four percent of respondents said they also support protecting businesses like pharmacies, grocery stores, and other essential businesses that have stayed open during the pandemic. Eighty-two percent of respondents support protecting restaurants, stores, and other businesses as they reopen, saying they cannot be sued by people who claim they contracted the coronavirus there, unless the business was grossly negligent.
Finally, the ILR pointed out that this support crosses party lines almost equally.
Lobbying by the Chamber of Commerce
If this looks like it might be lobbying, that’s because it is. The ILR is an affiliated group of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and advocates for reducing legal liability for businesses. Remington Gregg, an attorney with the consumer watchdog nonprofit Public Citizen, said to the Post about the ILR, “They never waste a crisis to push their agenda.” However, the Chamber did note that their proposed protections should be temporary.
If you have questions about the Safe to Work Act or a workers’ compensation claim, don’t hesitate to call the Tulsa injury attorneys at the Biby Law Firm. We can sit down with you and explain your options in detail. To arrange a free consultation, give our Oklahoma law firm a call today at 918-574-8458 or use our contact form.
Jacob Biby has spent his legal career helping folks just like you get the resources they need after an injury. He completed his undergraduate degree at Oklahoma State University and earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Tulsa in 2008. Jacob is licensed to practice in all Oklahoma state and federal courts, and has limited his career to representing individuals and families who were injured by the negligence of other people or corporations. Learn more about Jacob Biby.