Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and nearly two dozen other GOP governors asked congressional leaders this week to include COVID-related civil liability protections to businesses and others.
In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and others, the governors asked Congress to add “common sense civil liability protections to health care workers, businesses, and schools” to any coronavirus aid measure they approve.
“When Americans take sensible steps to implement public health best practices, they should have confidence that they will be secure from unreasonable claims,” the governors wrote. “Liability protections must be predictable, timely, targeted, and shield employers from legal risk when following the appropriate standard of care to protect employees, customers, and students.”
Liability protection for businesses that reopen has been a top priority for the Chamber of Commerce and the National Federal of Independent Businesses since early in the pandemic. Business owners are concerned about the lawsuits that might flow from people who get sick working in or patronizing their establishments.
No Democratic governors signed the letter.
Democrats in the General Assembly expressed concerned about liability protections that go too far.
“The concern would be that if you granted blanket immunity to an establishment, a potential victim precluded from pursing the relief that they’re normally entitled to,” said Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery).
“It opens the door to the minority of nefarious actors who would then be protected when acting in a less-than-responsible manner.”
Anticipating such criticism, the governors’ letter said “liability protections are not a license for gross negligence, misconduct, or recklessness.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) said Congress should be cautious about taking advice from GOP governors who rushed to reopen their economies and are now seeing record increases in COVID-19 infections.
“The problem that we’ve had from the very beginning is an unwillingness from Republicans to address the public health issues,” he said. “I’m not sure why anyone would want to be associated with governors who are now seeing really significant spikes.”
Groups representing employers praised the governors for pursuing liability protections.
“Liability protections for small businesses is a priority of NFIB in any legislation Congress passes,” said NFIB Maryland and Delaware Director Mike O’Halloran.
“A recent survey showed that 70% of small business owners are concerned about liability claims increasing as a result of this pandemic. It’s imperative that we establish protections from the threat of lawsuits that exploit the already damaging effects of COVID-19.”
In their letter, the GOP governors urged Congress to protect business-owners, schools and health care workers from the “threat of frivolous lawsuits.” Because state laws vary, it is “critical” that companies that do business in multiple states have “the uniformity that federal law provides,” they added.
Joining Hogan on the July 21 letter were Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Idaho Gov. Brad Little, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Oklahona Gov. Kevin Stitt, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon.
Five Republican governors did not sign the letter.