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Don’t give businesses immunity from liability for exposing workers or consumers to covid-19, consumer groups say

Coronavirus-outbreak-world-1024x506pxNo business should be given immunity from potential liability for exposing workers or customers to covid-19, Public Citizen and 117 other groups said Wednesday in a letter to leaders in Congress.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has called for businesses to be immune from liability if their workers and customers get sick because a business failed to take reasonable steps to protect people. Such a proposal, if enacted, would undermine consumer and worker protections, reward negligent conduct, and show unwarranted disrespect for state law, the groups said.

“[W]e strongly oppose any legislation that would establish nationwide immunity for businesses that operate in an unreasonably unsafe manner, causing returning workers and consumers to risk COVID-19 infection,” the groups wrote. “Removing legal accountability for businesses not only would jeopardize the health and safety of workers, it would also jeopardize everyone who enters those workplaces. This would be extremely damaging to the nation’s economic recovery.”

Some businesses already have put employees back in the workforce without ensuring their safety, and as a result, infections have spread, the groups said. In this way, the businesses are slowing the pace of recovery. Opening more businesses would ensure an even slower recovery and even more deaths.

“[L]egal liability is one of the most powerful incentives we have to ensure that businesses operate safely,” the groups wrote. “When workplaces are not properly protected, patients, customers, clients, and the community are all at risk.”

“From protecting the food supply chain to preventing needless deaths in nursing homes, it is clear that companies responsible for the health and safety of others must continue having every incentive to protect them,” the groups said.

In addition to Public Citizen, other groups signing the letter included the Center for Auto Safety, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, the Environmental Working Group, Food and Water Action, the Main Street Alliance, NAACP, the National Consumers League, the National Women’s Law Center, U.S. PIRG, the Service Employees International Union, the Main Street Alliance, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Farmworker Association of Florida, and the Long Term Care Community Coalition.

Comments

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Tom at Sightings

If I owned a business and didn't get some protection against the ambulance chasing lawyers, I'd probably never reopen. And yet, there should be protection for the public as well. There must be some middle ground.

Rita

Hi Tom,

Yes, it's a troubling time. Too bad we have the kind of economy that required small businesses to reopen too soon and that put low wage earners at risk.

My daughter said a lot of people in Spain are getting 60 percent of their income while they stay home.

Rita

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