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Immunity for Businesses Could Block Claims Pertaining to Fraud, Civil Rights, Pollution


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. Also refer to our tipsheet on misleading claims from industry groups and conservative lawmakers. Please send tips, feedback and questions to David Rosen at drosen@citizen.org.

BUSINESSES SHOULD NOT BE IMMUNE FROM LIABILITY FOR FRAUD: The Federal Trade Commission received more than 91,000 COVID-19-related complaints between Jan. 1 and June 8, with California reporting the largest number of complaints. More than half of them – nearly 48,000 – pertain to fraud. Consumers have reported losing nearly $60 million in total. Yet U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to immunize businesses from liability for “everything in the coronavirus space.” Surely, though, a public health crisis is no basis for giving a green light to fraud.

IMMUNITY MIGHT BLOCK CIVIL RIGHTS, ENVIRONMENTAL CLAIMS: “It’s not just workers and consumers who would get the shaft,” warned Remington A. Gregg, Public Citizen’s counsel for civil justice and consumer rights, in an interview with CounterSpin. The broad immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits being proposed by Senate Republicans and trade groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would seem to immunize employers from civil rights or environmental claims. “You claim that the business has been polluting and not following the proper regulations. And they can say, ‘Well, I’m sorry. You can’t sue us, because this is coronavirus-related.’” That’s not only unwise, but dangerous.

OSHA MUST DO MORE: A new report from the Center for Progressive Reform warns that the nation’s worker protection agency is using the pandemic as an excuse to roll back enforcement of existing workplace safety measures. “Instead of seizing the opportunity, with both carrot and stick, to ensure that the nation’s workers are not subjected to significant risks on the job, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other protector agencies have shrunk into the background,” the report observes. “Meanwhile, conservative leaders and the White House are pushing to insulate businesses from litigation brought by workers and customers who are harmed by the failure to institute appropriate safety measures – thus incentivizing unscrupulous businesses to ignore the risks in the pursuit of profit.” Under these circumstances, granting businesses immunity from liability would inevitably lead to more preventable worker illnesses and deaths.