Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen
Note: Details have emerged of a plan by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) to grant schools, businesses and health care providers immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits based on injuries retroactively from December 2019 through 2024. Under the plan, businesses could be held liable only for gross negligence or intentional misconduct – but not for their own negligence. For personal injury and medical liability cases, the proposal sets a clear-and-convincing-evidence burden of proof, caps damages and heightens pleading standards.
McConnell and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have never seen a crisis they are unwilling to exploit to achieve their long-term goal of providing corporations with immunity from liability. As he has done for decades, McConnell has pushed to prevent people from suing companies that have injured them or violated their rights. He continues to do so, rather than engage in meaningful discussions about how to better protect working people, consumers and patients from the long-term health and economic impacts of this crisis.
Contrary to McConnell’s claims, the only pandemic we have right now is the one that has killed more than 140,000 Americans. As of July 14, an analysis of lawsuits filed shows that despite more than 2 million Americans becoming infected, the number of cases alleging death, injury or threat of injury nationally (classified as “Misc. Tort,” “Health/Medical,” and “Conditions of employment” under the “Labor & Employment” section) is 161.
At a time when there is a reprehensible lack of leadership at the federal level and a total failure of the Trump administration to put forward enforceable federal standards to increase the safety of America’s working people and to decrease the rates of infections and deaths, the Senate’s rabid desire to shield corporations from accountability when they jeopardize the health and wellness of their employees will only result in more people feeling – and being – less safe and less protected from COVID-19.
There continues to be massive opposition to McConnell’s corporate giveaway from 140 organizations including labor and civil rights groups. With more details emerging, we expect opposition to grow even louder.