As companies start planning their reopenings, business groups are pushing Congress to limit liability from potential lawsuits filed by workers and customers infected by the coronavirus.
They appear to have the White House’s ear.
President Donald Trump has floated shielding businesses from lawsuits. His top economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on CNBC last week that businesses shouldn’t be held liable to trial lawyers “putting on false lawsuits that will probably be thrown out of court.” He said the issue could require legislation, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that the issue would be a priority when lawmakers return.
At issue is how to balance protecting businesses from lawsuits that could distract them and even lead to financial ruin, while also enabling justice for customers and workers who in a time of rapidly rising unemployment may not have the option of leaving their jobs for something safer.
“If there is no liability on the part of employers without a set of rules by which employers have to abide by, then that means you can have a wild wild west,” said Kent Swig, president of Swig Equities, LLC, a privately owned real estate investment and development company.
“You have to have a balance,” he added, “and you have to have rules and regulations.”
Swig says he’s planning measures like one-way lanes in public corridors in the lobbies and plexiglass dividers in offices at his properties. But he’s seeking national guidelines as well.
Linda Kelly, general counsel at the National Association of Manufacturers, said her trade group is “not trying to protect bad actors, and we are also not saying that liability should be completely eliminated.”
Rather, she said, the group believes “there should be a higher standard in place in order to impose legal liability and that employers who are doing the best that they can with the knowledge they have should not be subject to legal liability.”