As Main Street businesses follow the rules and guidelines set by state and federal officials to reopen their doors and reimagine their operations, they shouldn’t have to worry day and night about getting sued, too. Yet, evaluating that risk is exactly what’s going through the minds of America’s entrepreneurs: “Even if I follow the rules, will I end up getting sued? What will that cost? Is it even worth it to reopen?”
Congress could and should remedy this.
In a representative democracy, it’s crucial that members of Congress hear from constituents and interest groups about how the bills before the House and Senate can impact Americans, both good and bad, whether the consequences are intentional or unintended. In most cases, trade groups, their members, and their subject matter experts are invaluable partners in the legislative process. But obstruction should not be confused with advocacy, and some special interest groups in Washington derail legislation for selfish reasons and personal gain.
As states continue to safely reopen, employers, health care providers, and state and local leaders are examining ways to get their citizens back to work, all while navigating the ongoing challenges with COVID-19 and working to do so without compromising public health and safety. A few states have passed legislation or taken executive action to ensure their states have implemented commonsense protections so that American job creators and small businesses can have the confidence needed to reopen their places of business and get people back to work without facing frivolous lawsuits. These efforts are supported by citizens and stakeholders alike, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the National Grocers Association – to name a few.
At the federal level, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy have urged inclusion of these simple liability protections in future COVID-19 relief packages. These protections are a critical step to giving businesses the certainty they need to get our country up and running again, but – as we’ve seen time and time again – trial lawyers are rejecting commonsense reforms because of their vested interest in frivolous litigation. The dots aren’t difficult to connect: more lawsuits equal more dollars for the trial bar. Their opposition is not about safety – everyone agrees safety is a top priority. Does it make good business sense for your favorite restaurant to put its customers in danger? Of course not. This is about trial lawyers lining their pockets.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time. Part of the trial bar lining their pockets means they have more money to spend on political donations, and they’ve consistently used this political power to stop reforms that would improve and protect the lives of Americans. Just considering the policies within Energy and Commerce’s jurisdiction, they’ve stopped commonsense measures to protect people from asbestos, prevent frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits, ensure access to safe cosmetics, keep the United States as the leader in emerging technology like autonomous vehicles and broadband deployment, and shield consumer information from bad actors by reforming privacy laws.
Now, they’re attempting to stand in the way of safely reopening the economy and getting people across the country back to work. It’s shameful, and it is past time for Congress to stand up to the trial bar and demand they stop obstructing legislation that benefits all Americans. No matter your party affiliation, we should all be able to agree that our country’s future has to be more important than their bottom line.
House and Senate leaders are right to call for commonsense liability protections for job creators, and we should not accept any COVID-19 relief package that does not include these critical provisions.