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A Steady Drumbeat of Editorials Opposing Business Immunity; ‘Frivolous Lawsuits’ Claim Debunked


Welcome to the latest edition of “Corporate Accountability, Not Immunity,” a daily tipsheet highlighting key news and important facts on why Congress should not give corporations legal immunity from coronavirus-related harms to workers, consumers, patients and the public. Please send tips, feedback and questions to David Rosen at drosen@citizen.org.

EDITORIALS OPPOSE BUSINESS IMMUNITY: Editorial boards at The New York Times (May 15), the Boston Globe (May 15), the Kansas City Star (May 15), the Palm Beach Post (May 15), the South Florida Sun Sentinel (May 13), the Waco Tribune-Herald (May 13), the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (May 6), the San Francisco Chronicle (May 6), the Pensacola News Journal (May 2) and the Mercury News (April 23) have spoken out against proposals to give businesses immunity from liability to workers, patients and consumers. As the Times wrote late Friday, “The problem is that immunity doesn’t just shield the worst actors; it also punishes the best, by giving a competitive advantage to the businesses that decide to cut corners at the expense of worker and customer health and safety.”

A “FLOOD OF FRIVOLOUS LAWSUITS” IS PURE FALLACY: So far, only 47  coronavirus-related lawsuits filed nationwide even fall into the category of cases targeted in the pro-immunity rhetoric – personal injury or medical malpractice cases against a business –according to the Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP law firm’s case tracker. And most of those suits are against cruise lines. Although as many as 1,123 COVID 19-related lawsuits have been filed in total, about a third of all the cases were brought by prisoners seeking release from a facility impacted by the coronavirus. Many others are suits brought by one business against another, mostly over insurance coverage or contracts. Additional suits challenge price gouging or charlatans selling sham treatments, seek injunctive relief to require adequate workplace protections or present contractual disputes by consumers seeking refunds for services that they never received. In short, neither workers nor consumers are flocking to courts over exposure to the coronavirus at work or while shopping.

FIRST IMMUNITY PROPOSAL INTRODUCED: Friday saw the introduction of the first business immunity bill proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.). As The Hill reported, under that bill, courts would be required to instruct juries that the “liability standard is the reasonable person standard,” which holds that individuals can be found negligent if they do something a “reasonably careful person” wouldn’t do in the same situation. The law would define opening a business as reasonable, and thus a jury couldn’t find a business negligent solely based on its reopening. By suggesting a one-size-fits-all standard declaring reopening to be “reasonable,” the bill contradicts the expert opinion of public health and medical experts throughout the country (and the world). The bill’s sponsor also fails to appreciate that Congress lacks authority to alter the state-law standards on which tort suits are based.

Biggs is the latest “states’ rights” proponent to attempt to paper over the laws of all 50 states.