The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its members have asked the Senate Majority Leader for sweeping immunity from lawsuits related to their failure to exercise proper care of workers and consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic. We join leading consumer groups including Consumer Reports, Public Citizen and the Consumer Federation of America to tell Congress to resist attempts by corporations that want to block our right to hold them accountable in court when they cut corners on COVID-19 safety and make us sick.
Excerpt from our letter (attached below for download):
The potential for a business to be held liable for violating state-law duties of care has existed as long as our nation, through good and bad times. Thus, notably, the problem that the companies propose to solve does not exist. Neither workers nor consumers are flocking to courts to sue for exposure to the coronavirus at work or while shopping. And as the companies themselves recognize, suits for exposure while in a store or restaurant would be exceedingly unlikely to succeed because the individual would have to establish that he or she became sick because of exposure at a particular business location.
Nonetheless, if a consumer can prove that a store’s unreasonable failure to take precautions is what caused him to get sick, or if a worker can establish that she became sick because her employer insisted that an already sick coworker come to work, the business should not be shielded from legal accountability. A nursing home that failed to take precautions recommended by its state health department, or a company that encouraged employees to come to work after an outbreak at the facility — these businesses should not be immune from liability. As in any litigation, the businesses may have defenses that will prevail in court but they should not be immune from liability. That was true before the current crisis and remains true today.
In this pandemic crisis, the States have been on the front lines protecting workers and the public; longstanding state-law claims and remedies are designed to do the same. Good public policy, a commitment to worker and public health and safety, respect for the States and our federalist system, and common sense — all counsel against immunizing companies from liability when their own conduct causes harm. On behalf of our millions of members and supporters, we will actively oppose any attempt to do so. We ask that you block any efforts in Congress to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to weaken state laws that protect consumers.