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Statement: Corporate Immunity Should Be Excluded From COVID Relief Package

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Corporate immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits remains a sticking point in negotiations over the COVID-19 relief package. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continues to insist on including the Safe to Work Act in a relief package. That bill would let corporations off the hook for five years for endangering workers, consumers and patients. Democrats in both chambers of Congress and more than 200 organizations remain firmly opposed to any type of immunity for companies that fail to take reasonable precautions that sicken consumers or workers. Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, released the following statement:

“McConnell is holding hostage the COVID relief that Americans desperately need, demanding as ransom a grant of immunity to corporations for coronavirus-related wrongdoing. Such a get-out-of-jail-free card for corporations not only would deny compensation to people and families injured by corporations that unreasonably exposed them to the coronavirus, it will encourage companies to behave irresponsibly going forward. In other words, corporate immunity will further spread COVID-19 – giving immunity to businesses that have done nothing at all to combat the coronavirus.

“Americans need COVID relief, but we shouldn’t have to pay for it by sacrificing our health and worsening the pandemic. A liability shield from wrongdoing has been on the wish list for the GOP’s corporate donors going back decades, and McConnell is cynically using the pandemic as a pretext to try to force lawmakers to swallow this toxic and unpopular poison pill.

“Despite Big Business’s Chicken Little warnings, very few lawsuits have been filed by workers, consumers and patients claiming to have contracted COVID-19 because of reckless or unreasonable actions by employers, stores, nursing homes or other business establishments. According to one leading lawsuit tracker, there have been only 116 COVID-19-related lawsuits filed involving conditions of employment (including lack of PPE, exposure to the coronavirus at work, wrongful death and illness) and 229 cases overall related to coronavirus injuries or death. These are the paradigmatic cases that proponents of corporate immunity warn are threatening to overwhelm businesses.

“That so few cases have been filed considering widely documented misconduct by employers shows the difficulty under existing law of bringing such cases, including because many will be precluded by workers compensation and because of the complications in proving how any individual contracted COVID. But even with relatively few cases, the possibility of being held accountable in a private lawsuit is a powerful deterrent to corporations unreasonably exposing their employees to coronavirus risks.”

“The crisis at hand is dire, and the American people are screaming for relief. Unemployment insurance, aid for hospitals, and state and local assistance, should not be held hostage to McConnell and the Senate Republicans quest for corporate immunity,” added Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president at Public Citizen. “We are down to the wire as the opportunity to attach the stimulus to the end of year spending deal winds down. Lawmakers should continue to reject any package that includes this deadly corporate giveaway and move with haste to finish the negotiations.”