At the end of April, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell geared up for what may be a contentious battle when he announced his priority for the administration’s next COVID-19 relief bill – broad protections for companies and businesses from lawsuits as they reopen from the coronavirus pandemic.
Often referred to as “blanket immunity,” this call for liability protection has attracted much attention from both sides of the aisle. As coronavirus-related restrictions lift across the country (like here in Georgia), many businesses fear lawsuits from employees, essential workers, or customers alleging they contracted the virus on their premises.
McConnell believes these wide protections are necessary to shield companies as they reopen amid future uncertainties regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, and says he will “insist” Congress include his liability immunity proposal be included in the upcoming relief bill. “We probably will do another bill. What I’m saying is it won’t just be about money,” McConnell said. “The next pandemic coming will be the lawsuit pandemic in the wake of this one. So we need to prevent that now when we have the opportunity to do it.”
However, many labor union leaders and critics of the proposal believe blanket immunity can reward companies that fail to protect their own workers. Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union, said: “This is a discussion from corporations and employers that are shirking their employees on the front lines of the pandemic. They’re now going to try, as they infect people, to shirk any legal responsibility for it?”
Public opinion and business immunity
According to a recent poll from Hart Research, the majority of Americans oppose blanket immunity for companies and employers in cases involving COVID-19. From a national representative sample, the survey found:
- 64% of respondents oppose giving guaranteed immunity to companies from lawsuits in cases involving coronavirus infection
- Three in five respondents believe that giving corporations and other businesses immunity in coronavirus cases would result in more people getting the coronavirus
- Over half of voters who support President Trump over Joe Biden oppose lawsuit immunity in coronavirus cases
- Among the 64% of respondents who expect that some businesses will cut corners, 77% oppose guaranteed immunity from lawsuits
“The debate on lawsuit immunity is taking place against a backdrop of widespread concern among voters about reopening the economy without the proper safeguards to protect people’s lives. Our poll finds there is bipartisan opposition to guaranteed immunity in coronavirus cases because most voters believe some companies will take fewer precautions if they cannot be held accountable and more people will get sick as a result,” said Geoff Garin of Hart Research.
Find out more about blanket immunity and tort reform in our blog.
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