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Opinion: For trial lawyers, COVID-19 is just another feather in their cap

Sherman “Tiger” Joyce

There’s no question the coronavirus pandemic has taken a heavy toll on our nation. It has caused the deaths of more than 200,000 Americans, brought about unprecedented economic turmoil, and continues to harm the lives of everyday people. But not everyone is lamenting the devastation wrought by the coronavirus. Indeed, for certain trial lawyers, COVID-19 isn’t a tragedy — it’s an opportunity.

As America is struggling to recover from the crippling effects of the economic lockdown, many unscrupulous lawyers are attempting to capitalize on the crisis for financial gain. Across the nation, plaintiff’s attorneys are pouring money into advertising, encouraging businesses affected by the government-mandated lockdowns to seek legal recompense. 

From January to May alone, law firms have spent upward of $67 million on mass tort television advertisements in the hopes that their call to action will spur on a wave of COVID-19-related lawsuits. In fact, some firms received millions of dollars in federal aid under the Paycheck Protection Program, which they then used to boost their firms’ advertising budgets. These lawyers aren’t seeking solutions; they’re just creating burdensome litigation as part of a get-rich-quick scheme by targeting America’s insurance companies.

Sadly, we’ve seen this countless times before: Avaricious lawyers latch onto the hot-button issue of the day, concoct unfounded legal theories, mount massive public pressure campaigns, and flood the civil court system. They use various tactics — from advertising and media blitzes to celebrity cameo appearances — to increase the popularity of the narrative they are concocting and compel their targets to settle. This is the trial lawyers’ playbook, and for them, the merits of the cases they bring are almost irrelevant.  

Courts have already been inundated with claims against insurers. Plaintiffs have filed more than 1,100 COVID-19 lawsuits, claiming that insurance companies should be required to foot the bill for the costs to businesses caused by government-mandated lockdowns. This assigns responsibility to the wrong place.

If insurance companies were required to cover the full extent of businesses’ COVID-19 claims, the result would be catastrophic, Joyce writes.

According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the primary regulators for insurers, “business interruption” insurance policies generally do not cover losses due to a pandemic. These policies are intended to cover costs associated with physical damage, not viral contamination. Recent court decisions support this view, but the volume of litigation is expected to continue to grow, and lawyers will continue to recruit clients all in the hope of settling claims and reaping outsized fees for themselves. 

Unfortunately, these underhanded tactics are nothing new for the trial bar. Whether they’re suing the chemical industry over polyfluoroalkyl substances — synthetic chemicals found in various kitchen appliances — or taking McDonald’s to task over spilled hot coffee, the lawyers’ modus operandi is the same. They “sell” litigation as the way to solve society’s problems.  And now, they’re attempting to repeat that process with COVID-19. Only, when it comes to the issue of business interruption insurance, the stakes are much higher.

If insurance companies were required to cover the full extent of businesses’ COVID-19 claims, the result would be catastrophic. According to the NAIC, the industry would be bankrupted very quickly. In addition, this would deprive policyholders who need these assets to pay claims for recent hurricanes, wildfires and more routine auto crash claims. The resulting bankruptcy would ripple throughout the already-tenuous economy. Businesses would close, Americans would be laid off, and our nation’s economic recovery would be threatened.

Clearly, the trial bar’s preferred outcome — waves of litigation to force lucrative settlement deals — isn’t the best path forward for the United States. It doesn’t benefit business owners, who are forced to expend time and effort on lawsuits likely to be dismissed. It stretches the resources of America’s already-overburdened civil justice system beyond its limits. Finally, it threatens to bankrupt the insurance industry, dragging the U.S. economy down with it in the process. 

So, who does the trial attorneys’ litigation playbook benefit? Only the lawyers themselves. For these individuals, COVID-19 is merely another money-making opportunity — another feather in their cap — even if that profit comes at everyone else’s expense.

Sherman “Tiger” Joyce is the president of the American Tort Reform Association. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.