Immunity for corporations when they fail to take basic safety precautions against COVID-19 will cause more American workers and consumers to die and further hamper our economic recovery.Blanket legal immunity will prolong the pandemic, with some businesses inevitably forgoing basic precautions. Workers and consumers will not return to offices, stores and restaurants if companies cannot be held accountable when they fail to prioritize health and safety. If no one is responsible, no one is safe. People will not go back to their normal routines if they don’t feel safe.A recent poll found that nearly two-thirds of voters across party lines oppose legislation giving guaranteed immunity to businesses, and even small business owners think it’s unnecessary. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce — which has been demanding legal immunity for decades — inadvertently revealed in its own polling that “liability protection” was the lowest priority of small business owners.
As the president of an association representing thousands of trial lawyers, I know that there won’t be a flood of lawsuits, and the Chamber of Commerce knows this, too. Proving that a company acted unreasonably and that those exact actions caused harm will be difficult. It will be extremely challenging to prove that a victim was exposed and got sick in one specific place given the number of places or people from which or from whom that victim could have been exposed.The cases that move forward will be the ones like those involving nursing homes that kept sick workers on the job resulting in mass death, or food processing plants that offered bonuses to sick employees who came to work.Even then, blanket immunity won’t help those sick workers or the families of those who died — it will just shield corporations that failed to take reasonable steps.Let’s make the health of workers and consumers the top priority and then watch our businesses and economy flourish. We’re all in this together.Bruce Stern is president of the American Association for Justice
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