Issue Brief Shows Chamber’s Predictions Are Wrong
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a long history of making panicked predictions of an impending “flood” of lawsuits to push lawmakers and courts to curtail the rights of individuals to hold companies accountable for wrongdoing. But its warnings of doom are consistently false, according to an issue brief Public Citizen released today. The brief provides examples of the Chamber’s alarmist rhetoric, over the past 20 years, to foment unjustified fear of litigation.
“As we grapple with the biggest public health crisis of our lifetime, the Chamber is using a pandemic as cover to get a priority wish-list item for its members: five years of immunity from tort liability,” said Remington A. Gregg, counsel for civil justice and consumer rights at Public Citizen and author of the brief. “While both the Chamber and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argue that immunizing businesses during a pandemic is the only way to stop a flood of litigation, the evidence shows that there is no flood.”
“Chicken Little was famous for crying ‘the sky is falling.’ Over the years, the Chamber has taken a similar ‘sky is falling’ approach,” the report reads. “It has consistently attempted to scare lawmakers, media and the public with anti-litigation rhetoric – so much so that its warning about a ‘flood’ of litigation has become something of a parody. The Chamber and its allies are now using this playbook again, to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to undermine state-law protections that provide accountability and potential compensation to people injured by others’ negligence.”
The Chamber, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the U.S., advocates for the interests of big business. Over the past few months, the Chamber has been lobbying federal and state lawmakers to grant businesses broad immunity from coronavirus-related liability. The Chamber seeks to exempt businesses from the laws of all 50 states that allow workers, consumers and patients an avenue to hold companies accountable when their actions cause people harm. Granting corporations immunity would lead to more illnesses for workers and consumers and more preventable deaths, while slowing our economic recovery from the pandemic, Public Citizen maintains.
According to a “COVID-19 Complaint Tracker” prepared by Hunton Andrews Kurth, consumers have filed few cases, and those that have been filed hardly support granting immunity. The majority of consumer lawsuits seek refunds related to cancellations or postponements; despite the huge number of cancelled events over the past several months, the tracker shows only 109 cases in this category. Other consumer cases arise from price gouging (20 cases), recurring membership fees (28 cases) or deceptive advertising (46 cases). Only 11 cases involve claims of personal injury, and only 35 involve claims of wrongful death. Only six are medical malpractice claims. These data show one thing clearly: There is no flood of lawsuits; there is a trickle.
When Congress begins debating another stimulus package next week, lawmakers should focus on providing critical funds to state and local governments, ensuring that schools have enough funding to keep students safe, and extending unemployment insurance. During this public-health crisis, lawmakers should not be duped by Chamber rhetoric into immunizing businesses that fail to take reasonable precautions to keep workers, consumers and patients safe.