Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr is leading a coalition of 21 state attorney generals seeking congressional support to create federal legislation that will protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Our economy will only recover if customers, employees and businesses alike have confidence to return to the marketplace," Carr said in a press release.
"As attorneys general, we ensure our states have a legal and regulatory environment that protects consumers and allows the free enterprise system to thrive. It is in keeping with this mission that we are calling on Congress to ensure that those businesses that have engaged in best practices and followed federal and state guidance for safe and appropriate operations as a result of this pandemic will be protected from baseless litigation regarding COVID-related claims."
On Monday, Carr sent a letter to Senators Lindsey Graham and Diane Feinstein, who both serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, with a warning that as state economies reopen some regions could see a surge in COVID-19 civil cases targeting businesses that engage in mitigation practices, such as requiring masks, or claims that businesses exposed employees or customers to the new coronavirus.
Congressional leaders have argued about liability protections for businesses before, and it was something that McConnell and fellow Republicans wanted to see in the next CARES Act.
However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last month that blanket liability protections wouldn't have Democratic support.
"At the time of this coronavirus challenge, especially now, we have every reason to protect our workers and our patients in all of this," she said, according to The Hill. "So we would not be inclined to be supporting any immunity from liability."
In his letter to senators, Carr said the legislation should address pandemic issues not covered under federal law that sets a foundation for states to enact supporting legislation
"In the wake of this unprecedented crisis, the extension of appropriate post-pandemic liability protections is needed at both the state and federal levels for businesses, manufacturers of personal protective equipment, first responders, healthcare workers, healthcare facilities, and members of law enforcement, among others," Carr said in his letter.
Texas Attorney General Paxton, who was among the 21 signatories on the letter, agreed that businesses need clearly defined expectations to operate safely, and protect their customers, as many are reopening in a COVID-19 world.
"Criminal penalties, regulatory fines and agency oversight must be reserved to stop those who recklessly inflict harm, and civil lawsuits should be available for any citizens hurt by those actually acting with disregard for safety," Paxton said.
Other state attorney generals who signed the letter in support of the call for business protections include: Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, Nebraska Attorney General Douglas Peterson, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.
“I am proud to join 20 of my fellow State Attorneys General in calling on Congress to ensure businesses have clearly defined expectations for the safe and appropriate continuance of operations while being protected from devastating civil liability litigation concerning baseless COVID-related claims,” said Landry.