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Congress Must Protect Businesses From Baseless COVID-19 Lawsuits

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Jezree Friend is the senior government relations representative at the Manufacturer & Business Association. Contact him at 814/833-3200, 800/815-2660 orjfriend@mbausa.org.

Since the early days of the Industrial Revolution, manufacturing has been the heart of the Pennsylvania economy. During good times and bad and throughout  history, manufacturers have continually adapted, rising to  each  challenge  to provide job security and economic stability for the region. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven no different. Despite threats of shutdowns, business closures or shifting operations to serve customers due to stay-at-home orders,  manufacturers across the country have been fighting back against the spread of the virus while still keeping the economy moving.

COVID-19 has created uncertainty for all of us, including those businesses that have been operating throughout the crisis. With our understanding of the virus evolving daily, federal and state government guidelines and restrictions have continually changed and without warning. Still, manufacturers have done their part to ensure essential employees remain protected despite the confusion.

These companies are making significant investments to adjust to the new safety precautions associated with COVID-19. Many are instituting intense cleaning procedures, regular temperature checks and social distancing, as well as investing in personal protective and safety equipment. However, despite these good intentions, like hungry wolves, trial lawyers are trying to exploit this pandemic to use legal “gray area” to sue companies over COVID-19.

At a time when densely populated areas of Pennsylvania are seeing COVID-19 cases rise, Erie County maintains one of the lowest fatality rates at 4.8 per 100,000 residents. While favorable to the region, our businesses have good reason to be concerned. Health and government officials still do not fully understand the spread of COVID-19. At any point, an employer that has been doing the right thing could be unfairly blamed for the spread of the virus, opening the floodgates to unfair and baseless accusations.

This is not hypothetical. We already have seen this happening right here in Pennsylvania, with at least 161 COVID-19- related complaints filed. Unfortunately, these lawsuits, or even the threat of them, could devastate COVID-19 recovery efforts in our region by disrupting operations and halting the production of critical supplies.

Manufacturers, already facing extreme uncertainty and the financial impacts of the pandemic, are working on the front lines to combat this crisis. Many have shifted and intensified operations to produce masks, surgical gowns, face shields and hand sanitizer to aid our health-care heroes and protect Americans. It is the manufacturers, working alongside national efforts, racing to discover the COVID-19 vaccine. These companies should not be hit with predatory lawsuits during such an unprecedented time.

The Manufacturer & Business Association has partnered with many employer groups who have released a comprehensive roadmap to help lawmakers address COVID-19 liability reforms. These specific, narrow measures would effectively expand Good Samaritan protections and clarify the handling of lawsuits that deal with workplace transmission theories. These would in no way allow businesses to get away with reckless or intentional actions that disregard health and safety standards. Rather, they would just give much-needed protections to the many companies trying to do the right thing to keep their employees safe during the pandemic.

As Congress continues to work to address the fallout from COVID-19, it is critical policymakers look to protect businesses working in good faith from bad faith coronavirus lawsuits. Manufacturers have risen to the  challenge  time  and again, providing essential supplies to help fight the virus and to keep the supply chain operating. Now, it is up to the Pennsylvania congressional delegation and the rest of Congress to do what is right for manufacturers and the families they employ.