GOP’s Proposal Limits Virus Liability Claims Against Businesses, Schools, Caregivers

By | July 17, 2020

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to give federal courts jurisdiction over liability claims arising from coronavirus infections to limit the legal exposure of businesses, schools and other organizations as they reopen, according to a summary of legislation he plans to offer.

McConnell and Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn are working on a measure to be included in a GOP-only virus relief package that could be released next week. That will be the opening for negotiations with Democrats on legislation to bolster the economy, which has been hobbled by the continuing spread of the coronavirus.

The legislation, a top priority of the Senate GOP leader, would temporarily give businesses, schools, colleges, charities and other organizations a shield from lawsuits as long as they make “reasonable” efforts to follow public health guidelines and didn’t commit an act of “gross negligence” or “intentional misconduct,” according to the summary.

Senate Republicans also want to shield medical workers and health facilities from medical liability claims, according to the draft of the plan.

The proposal would move to federal courts medical liability claims against caregivers that arise from care provided for the virus by licensed health care facilities and medical workers. Like employers generally, they could only be successfully sued if they engaged in gross negligence and intentional misconduct. Federal courts could decide such matters as the burden of proof by a claimant or any caps on damages.

The limits would be in place through 2024 under the Republican plan.

Business groups aligned with congressional Republicans, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are pressing for federal control of cases to escape what they call a “patchwork” of state laws, statutes that depending on the jurisdiction can subject them to higher risks that employers will lose to plaintiffs in court.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argues that such sweeping liability changes are not necessary if the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issues a new standard for dealing with the virus. Defendants in civil actions could cite compliance with the standard.

“In terms of the immunity that they want, we’re saying the best way to do that is to pass the Heroes Act. In the Heroes Act we have a very strong OSHA provision,” Pelosi said on MSNBC Wednesday, referring to the $3.5 trillion plan passed by the House. She called The Republican plan to unfair to workers.

–With assistance from Erik Wasson.

Top Photo: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, center, arrives for a closed door briefing with top intelligence officials at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 2, 2020.

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