Keep businesses safe from baseless liability lawsuits

Frequent changes in state and federal COVID-19 guidance and health and safety regulations have left responsible businesses exposed to opportunistic lawsuits.

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Businesses are struggling to survive while keeping customers and employees safe and should be shielded from baseless liability lawsuits, writes the author.

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Illinois’ businesses face an uncertain future as COVID-19 continues to spread throughout our communities and our country. From small businesses on Main Street to critical manufacturers, the risks and ambiguity associated with operating amid this crisis are daunting.

Still, businesses across the state have adapted as the pandemic spread, and customer and employee safety has been top of mind. They are doing their best to follow government regulations and guidance and to meet increasingly demanding health and safety standards. In storefronts and on shop floors from Chicago to Marion, businesses are installing plexiglass dividers, requiring masks and gowns and intensifying cleaning regimens.

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Despite their best efforts, however, frequent changes in state and federal COVID-19 guidance and health and safety regulations have left businesses exposed to opportunistic and costly lawsuits.

It is not fair to punish the very businesses that have stepped up to the plate during our time of need. These businesses continue to produce and supply every necessary product — from food and medicine to protective gear and infrastructure — and they are critical for our recovery. The Illinois business community is not just keeping people working and providing benefits at a time of economic turmoil, but it’s also actively making critical equipment to help our frontline healthcare workers battle COVID-19.

The number of COVID-19 liability lawsuits filed in the months since the virus spread to Illinois has grown to nearly 200 to date. The implications of these lawsuits are worse than just a financial blow. At a time when many businesses already are struggling to stay afloat, a baseless liability lawsuit could knock a business completely off its feet, forcing them to close, costing employees their jobs, disrupting local supply chains or limiting the production of essential goods.

Illinois businesses, and especially our manufacturing community, are crucial to our state’s ability to overcome this crisis and recover — both economically and physically. Unfortunately, liability lawsuits could dismantle these efforts, and they must be taken seriously.

It’s up Congress to make sense of all the confusion by enacting liability protections for businesses that did the right thing and took steps to protect the health and safety of their workers. In developing and refining this legislation, our representatives should look to the National Association of Manufacturers’ comprehensive roadmap on pandemic-related liability reforms.

Protecting businesses from potentially baseless lawsuits doesn’t need to be that complicated. For example, one key component is simply ensuring that business that take all reasonable precautions against COVID-19 cannot be held responsible for cases of community spread. These liability protections would only be for the duration of the pandemic, and they wouldn’t stand in the way of lawsuits against businesses which actually disobey the law or behave irresponsibly, failing to protect their employees  

Illinois businesses are dedicated to combatting COVID-19; we cannot let needless litigation and legal uncertainty become an obstacle in our efforts to do so.

Laura Crawford is the president of Downers Grove-based Chamber 630, one of the largest business organizations in DuPage county.

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