TOPEKA – In the wake of the unprecedented coronavirus crisis, appropriate liability protections should be extended to help mitigate the threat of frivolous litigation for much-needed goods and services while still ensuring victims are able to seek legal redress and compensation where appropriate, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has told the U.S. Congress.
Schmidt joined 20 other state attorneys general Tuesday to urge the chairman and ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Judiciary to enact specific federal liability protections for businesses, manufacturers of personal protective equipment, first responders, healthcare workers, healthcare facilities and members of law enforcement, among others.
“Regardless of when governments decide to lift stay-at-home orders and other COVID-19 restrictions, the reality is our economy will only truly recover if customers and employees have the confidence to return to the marketplace,” Schmidt said in a press release. “Congress should help ensure businesses across the country have clearly defined expectations for the safe and appropriate continuance of operations by enacting federal liability protections as a foundation for states to build upon if they so choose.”
The attorneys general note in the letter that, while the protections are necessary to protect well-intentioned businesses from devastating civil liability litigation concerning baseless COVID-related claims, there must be appropriate avenues for redress for actual victims and to correct dangerous and unlawful conduct.
“Civil liability protections should not, however, be extended to businesses engaging in willful misconduct, reckless infliction of harm or intentional infliction of harm,” the attorneys general wrote in the letter. “We believe criminal penalties, regulatory fines and agency oversight should be able to capture bad actors and civil lawsuits should be available for any citizens hurt by a business or individual acting with disregard for safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
States across the country have recognized the need for timely, targeted and tailored civil liability protections in light of the pandemic, according to the release. To date, more than 20 states have enacted liability protections for first responders and healthcare workers. In Kansas, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday afternoon on liability protections at the state level. The hearing will be publicly live-streamed over the internet.