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Businesses Should Not Get a Free Pass, National Consumer Groups Tell Congress

Liability Shield Proposal Would Be a Gift to Giant Corporations

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Six national consumer organizations today urged congressional leaders to oppose proposals that let businesses off the hook if they cause people to get sick.

The proposals would override state laws that enable workers and consumers to hold companies accountable in court. The public opposes the idea. A poll released today from Hart Research shows that 64% of voters, including a majority of Republican voters, oppose granting businesses immunity.

The letter from the consumer groups came in response to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s announcement that it will hold a May 12 hearing exploring proposals to give businesses immunity from potential liability related to COVID-19. Such proposals, the groups argue, would undermine consumer and worker protections, excuse negligent conduct and show unwarranted disrespect for state law, including centuries-old state-law remedies.

“In this pandemic crisis, the states have been on the front lines protecting workers and the public; longstanding state-law claims and remedies are designed to do the same,” the letter reads. “Good public policy, a commitment to worker and public health and safety, respect for the states and our federalist system, and common sense all counsel against immunizing companies from liability when their own conduct causes harm.”

Today’s letter is from Public Citizen, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, National Consumer League and U.S. PIRG – groups representing millions of members and supporters. Their letter follows an April 29 letter from 118 groups asking Congress to oppose a liability shield for businesses. Liability is one of the most powerful incentives we have to ensure that businesses operate safely, both letters maintain.

A broad range of businesses, including hotels, restaurants, convenience stores, members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others, are seeking immunity from potential suits related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the companies seeking immunity have long invoked the bugaboo of tort liability as the reason for their struggles.

The signatories to the letter are asking Congress to reject the opportunistic attempt to use the anxiety that we all share today to push through a devastating weakening of the law. Businesses’ calls for immunity are premised on a false choice between the return to a healthy economy and allowing businesses to be held accountable if they cause people to get sick.