Opinion: Michigan leaders need to protect businesses from COVID-19 lawsuit abuse
As Michigan continues to reopen its economy, all attention has been on safety. Why we should wear a mask and what we can do to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19.
Job providers across our great state have willingly incurred the expenses associated with modifying their facilities, knowing they shoulder the responsibility to do their best to protect their workplaces, safeguard employees and protect customers, suppliers and visitors from exposure to and spread of the virus.
Despite these efforts, a nagging yet real threat exists — the threat of opportunistic plaintiffs’ lawyers who are looking to turn the COVID-19 crisis into financial gain.
Recovering businesses that are working to stabilize our communities and save our economy are deeply concerned about the possibility that, despite their very best efforts to protect their workplaces, employees, customers and visitors and follow guidelines to a tee, they will be exposed to opportunistic lawsuits.
These lawsuits might be filed by individuals who claim (without proof) they contracted the virus during work or interaction with a business. Other lawsuits might be aimed at second-guessing the businesses that stepped up to manufacture much-needed personal protection equipment during the crisis.
The Michigan chamber, along with 46 other organizations ranging from local chambers of commerce to associations representing nonprofits, businesses, schools, colleges and universities, supports commonsense legislation that tells employers that if they take reasonable steps to follow public health guidelines, they will be protected against needless lawsuits.
The chamber would never suggest protecting bad actors or companies thumbing their nose at state and federal guidelines. We can all agree that someone with a real grievance — if a company purposefully put a person’s health in danger — should have access to justice.
Rather, this effort is about protecting job providers who follow the rules; telling them that, if they take reasonable steps to follow public health guidelines, they will be protected against baseless lawsuits. This will incentivize compliance with safety guidelines at all levels.
Similar reforms are gaining momentum in states around the country — and in Congress. In fact, some other states have already adopted bipartisan reforms protect businesses and individuals from COVID-19 lawsuit abuse. Congress is currently pursuing it as well, although partisan politics is getting in the way.
The Michigan bills will get their first hearing on Thursday before a joint meeting of the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Economic and Small Business Development Committee.
Providing local businesses that are following the rules with protection against opportunistic litigation shouldn’t be a partisan issue. We hope it won’t turn into one in Lansing.
We urge the Legislature and governor to work together to enact protections now so we can keep people safe and employees and businesses from lawsuit abuse.
Wendy Block is vice president of business advocacy and member engagement for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.