September 14, 2020

Weekly Column: Backing Those Leading The Pandemic Fight

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Health care workers, businesses and individuals across our country have been working hard to treat those impacted by the pandemic and ensure our nation’s recovery.  We must make certain that those who act lawfully to meet the needs of our communities are not subject to frivolous lawsuits for their good actions. 

More than 200 organizations representing American businesses nationwide, including farm families, small businesses, physicians, hotels, trucking associations, manufacturers, grocers, distributers, restaurants and many more, have urged Congress to enact temporary liability relief legislation related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  In a letter to Congress, they stressed the role of front-line medical professionals treating patients, companies hurrying to develop treatments and cures, manufacturers transforming their operations to construct vital personal protective equipment (PPE) and those providing a stable food supply among the American businesses that have rallied to help our country emerge from this crisis. 

They emphasized, “Absent a targeted safe harbor for those that work to follow applicable guidelines, the fear and uncertainty from boundless liability threatens to impede our country’s social and economic recovery.”  They also urged that the protections are limited to those following public health guidelines, “In addition to being temporary, we believe that these liability protections should be limited in scope and preserve recourse for those harmed by truly bad actors who engage in egregious misconduct.” 

I joined 20 fellow senators, including Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), in co-sponsoring S.4317, the Safeguarding America's Frontline Employees To Offer Work Opportunities Required to Kickstart the Economy (SAFE TO WORK) Act, introduced by Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas).  S. 4317 would provide temporary protections from COVID-related liability lawsuits for frontline workers and businesses.  This includes individuals, schools, colleges, charities, churches, government agencies and associations.  Importantly, the protections apply so long as the defendant undertook reasonable efforts in light of all the circumstances to comply with the applicable mandatory coronavirus standards and regulations in effect at the time of the alleged exposure.  Therefore, the provisions do not protect gross negligence or willful misconduct.  

A legal shield for businesses that provide reasonable protections for their workers against COVID-19 was included in the series of bills, collectively referred to as the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act introduced on July 27, 2020.  These bills provide further stimulus relief in the wake of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. 

On August 18, 2020, Senate Republicans also released the Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Business Act  (referred to as the “skinny” proposal), which includes many of the provisions of the HEALS Act, including the SAFE to WORK Act provisions I co-sponsored providing necessary liability protections for non-profits, hospitals, churches, schools and businesses from opportunistic litigation. 

In a special session on August 26, 2020, the Idaho Legislature passed a bill providing liability protection for Idaho businesses, cities, counties, people or schools, working to avoid transmission in compliance with public health orders.  The following day, Governor Brad Little signed the legislation into law. 

Individuals and businesses working in good faith and following the guidance of public health officials should have assurance their sound actions to help others cannot be used against them.  As I continue to work closely with Governor Little, my Senate colleagues and the Trump Administration to ensure Idaho receives the resources necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, I look forward to enactment of these necessary protections for those advancing our national recovery.      

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