Last week, Senate Republicans unveiled the HEALS Act, their proposal to address the continued devastation that COVID-19 is wreaking on the country. The Act, a collection of discrete bills authored by various Senators, would have far-reaching consequences. One of the bills, Texas Senator John Cornyn’s SAFE TO WORK Act, would restrict lawsuits based on coronavirus exposure against employers, businesses, and many other potential defendants. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that the liability restrictions are a critical Republican requirement for further COVID-19 relief measures.
Senator Cornyn claims that his bill “would protect those acting in good faith from being sued into oblivion while ensuring bad actors who willingly put their patients, employees, or customers in danger will still be held accountable.” Employers and businesses no doubt are dealing with great challenges given these extraordinary circumstances. And it is sensible for legislators to seek a balance between accountability for bad actors who fail to take reasonable precautions and the threat of ruinous liability for employers and businesses doing their best. Yet the bill’s complex procedural requirements make any hope of accountability impossible. In fact, the bill actually encourages harmful behavior.
The legislation’s provisions are complex, but here’s a brief overview of how it works. It creates a new federal cause of action that preempts other federal, state, or tribal causes of action “related to recovery for personal injuries caused by actual, alleged, feared, or potential for exposure to coronavirus.” The federal cause of action requires plaintiffs to prove that the defendant’s “gross negligence” or “willful misconduct” caused injury. That means that even if, say, Missouri law permitted a line cook harmed by a restaurant’s ordinary negligence that caused them to contract COVID-19 to sue for damages, federal law would forbid the suit. The only exception is for laws that are more restrictive, meaning the goal isn’t uniformity, just limits on liability.
But the bill goes much further. It contains numerous interlocking procedural restrictions that make it essentially impossible for a plaintiff to prevail. For one, the bill requires proof by “clear and convincing” evidence—an unusually high burden for most civil cases. It requires plaintiffs to detail their factual allegations with a much higher degree of specificity than is usually required.
The bill also creates a “safe harbor” for defendants, which says that whenever a defendant can point to any “written or published policy” in line with applicable government regulations, the defendant will be presumed to have acted reasonably, even if the “policy” is just boilerplate language they did not actually follow. If a defendant’s motion to dismiss the suit is unsuccessful, it can take an immediate appeal—potentially delaying litigation for years. Plaintiffs’ ability to obtain relevant evidence through discovery is sharply limited. Damages for any plaintiff lucky enough to achieve a victory are restricted.
Each one of these requirements individually puts a big thumb on the scale in favor of defendants. Collectively, they pose nearly insuperable obstacles to recovery for plaintiffs—even when they seek recovery from actors who engaged in egregious misconduct that caused death or serious injury. The effect will be to discourage entities, such as warehouse operators or meat-packing plants, to take even reasonable precautions to prevent harm.
But few plaintiffs would really ever risk getting this far. That’s because of the worst provisions in what is already a bad bill. The Act doesn’t just make it hard for plaintiffs to win; it makes it potentially devastating for them to even consider suit. If a victim requests compensation “in exchange for settling . . . or otherwise not pursuing a claim that is, or could be, brought as part of a coronavirus-related action,” the recipient of the request can seek compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees if the claim is “meritless.”
There is much more at the link above. However it is clear that the Republicans are using the economic recession / depression to absolve business of any responsibility for a safe workplace. Republicans have long hated rules that protect workers and cost business money. Hey they loves them businesses, workers not so much. So this makes it so business can force you to put your health and life in danger and have no responsibility when you get sick or die. You peons, serve your betters and then die, but first breed up the next generation of labor slaves to feed the wealth of the stock market and pay for a government that serves only the wealthy. Hugs