Wednesday, 27 January 2021 18:12

States Revive Push for Virus Liability Protections for Employers

Written by Chris Marr, Bloomberg Law


...coronavirus-related claims under federal employment statutes, such as anti-discrimination or anti-retaliation laws, Cuttino said.


They do provide an extra layer of protection against claims such as a workplace wrongful death lawsuit or a complaint of unsafe working conditions, she said. Those types of claims are often, but not always, preempted by workers’ compensation laws or federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration jurisdiction, she added.


No Flood, But Litigation ‘Fear’


Chambers of commerce, restaurant associations and other business groups have been calling for liability protections since the pandemic gripped the U.S. last March. They contend that even the threat of a flood of lawsuits would make it difficult for businesses to reopen after virus-related shutdowns, and that litigation could lead some to close permanently.


The American Legislative Exchange Council, an idea-exchange for conservative state lawmakers, last year drafted model legislation for states to use to enact liability protections.


Cuttino and some state legislators advocating for the protections, including Florida Rep. Lawrence McClure (R), acknowledged there still hasn’t been a rush of liability litigation, in line with evidence from litigation trackers and court dockets. But they say the threat remains significant.


“It’s the fear of liability. Our businesses have been through just an unbelievable, uncertain time. Once in a hundred years, right?” McClure, who’s sponsoring Florida’s H.B. 7, told a House committee that voted to advance the bill Jan. 13.


“Although the courts aren’t packed, I’ll submit, it’s the fear of frivolous lawsuits as this evolves. We have the obligation to define that and put the business community at ease.”


Trial lawyers’ associations, labor unions and worker advocacy groups oppose liability shields, arguing that limiting people’s ability to hold businesses accountable in court...

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