Business groups say that the fear of a flood of unfair coronavirus lawsuits hurting businesses is real despite data showing that not many such lawsuits have been filed yet.
More than 3,700 coronavirus-related lawsuits have been filed since March, but just 185, or less than 5% of the total, are plaintiffs claiming potential exposure to the virus from a business or other entities, according to an analysis by the American Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers.
The analysis suggests that the rate of lawsuits being filed against businesses for potential exposure to the virus are relatively low and buttress the association's argument that Republicans' push for coronavirus-related liability protections for businesses and other entities such as schools and nonprofit groups is misguided.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said shielding business owners from coronavirus-related lawsuits is a “red line” in future spending negotiations with Democrats. Republicans are worried that the economic recovery could slow without such protections because of the fear of businesses being unfairly sued in the coming months, even if they do their best to follow coronavirus safety protocols.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, on the other hand, have said Democrats won't support the business liability protections, with Pelosi saying in May that their priority is to “protect our workers and our patients in all of this.”
But business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers say that the number of claims will grow.
“Their argument is a red herring. Employers need protections before a potentially crippling lawsuit has been filed against them, not after,” said Harold Kim, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.
“Waiting for an onslaught of litigation to happen is like leaving your umbrella at home when there is a storm in the forecast,” Kim said.
Furthermore, many business groups claim that trial attorneys and those wanting to sue businesses and other entities have a minimum of two years and, in some states, up to six years to bring cases from the pandemic.
“This means these are still very early days — we’re frankly surprised to see so many cases already, including several dozen class-action lawsuits,” said Patrick Hedren, vice president of litigation at the National Association of Manufacturers,
He added that labor employment complaints related to the coronavirus have had a growth rate greater than 190% in June when compared to April.
Hedren said that it was “disingenuous in the extreme” to suggest that coronavirus-related litigation isn’t a problem because tens of thousands of cases have not been filed yet. He added that a number of courts are currently closed, and many trial attorneys are waiting to see which claims will work and which do not — thus, a future spike in cases is possible.
The trial lawyers association remains skeptical that a surge in cases is imminent.
“No matter what data set you’re using, there are very, very few lawsuits filed compared to how many infections and deaths have been reported,” said Julia Duncan, senior director of government affairs at AAJ.
Business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce have advocated for more public safety protections while reopening the economy and said that the purpose of the litigation protection was not to safeguard entities who are not following public health guidance or to provide blanket immunity, as the trial lawyers association has claimed in the past.
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