A major impediment to opening up the American economy are lawsuits. Congress needs to consider what liability protections are necessary so that business owners will feel confident in going back to work.
The list of lawsuits already being filed is much larger than I imagined. Consider this shortened list from the editors of the Wall Street Journal. “Trial lawyers are filing suits against emergency-supply manufacturers (false advertising), colleges (refusal to refund student fees), cruise lines (emotional distress), retailers (wrongful death), nursing homes (negligence), and governments (denial of hazard pay)—and much more.”
Some governors have used their emergency power to grant some liability protections to health care workers. That only makes sense. They should not be sued because they did not have all the necessary protection equipment or because they were dealing with a novel virus for which they had no experience.
At the least, Congress should protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits where there is no serious injury. Lawyers are already filing lawsuits against cruise lines on behalf of passengers who did not contract the virus but had an unpleasant emotional experience on the ship.
Will these lawsuits be successful? On the radio, I have talked about the wrongful death suit brought against Walmart because one of their employees died of the virus. How could you prove that the worker picked up the coronavirus at work? That would be difficult to prove, but most businesses don’t have many assets and will probably want to settle because of the expense of going to court.
Given the economic devastation of the last two months, most small businesses have few economic resources to defend themselves. A lawsuit filed on behalf of an employee or customer will put them out of business. That’s why Congress needs to have a debate about this issue now.