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Push to stop COVID-19 lawsuits will continue in January

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Lawmakers have begun discussions toward shielding employers from opportunistic COVID-19 lawsuits — all while it is now clear that Missouri will have to wait until January for progress on this critical issue.

A Missouri Senate committee jump-started discussions on Dec. 1 by holding a hearing on the need to shield businesses, schools and health facilities from the growing threat of COVID-19 litigation.

Since March, more than 1,000 COVID-19 lawsuits have been filed against employers across the nation. In response, many states — including all but one of Missouri’s neighboring states — have enacted some form of protection against lawsuits. Meanwhile, Missouri employers remain completely exposed.

Sen. Ed Emery of Lamar had filed legislation to bring these important protections to Missouri.

“Never before have we ever even implied that if you enter a business and you catch a disease … that it was the business’s fault that you caught that disease,” said Sen. Emery, as he introduced his bill to the Senate committee.

Sen. Emery said that passing protections will help the state’s economic recovery, helping businesses feel confident that they can reopen and bring their workers back.

“There is a need for these protections,” he said. “We have institutions, manufacturers, schools, businesses, that are simply afraid or cannot afford the insurance to pursue their normal course of business even with the extra precautions that they are taking.”

The Missouri Chamber has championed this issue since spring. Nearly 800 Missouri businesses and individuals have signed onto a Missouri Chamber letter calling for action to protect organizations that are taking the necessary precautions to keep Missourians safe.

In November, Gov. Mike Parson asked lawmakers to pass legislation dealing with this issue during a special session before the end of the year. But with limited time remaining, the governor has now asked lawmakers to wait until January to take action on COVID-19 protections.

Even with this new time frame, the Missouri Chamber is stressing the need for this to be treated as emergency legislation and for lawmakers to pass these protections as their first priority.

“On behalf of employers across the state that have been anxiously waiting for these protections, the Missouri Chamber is disappointed that progress will be stalled until lawmakers reconvene in January,” said Daniel P. Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “We will continue to move the issue forward, ensuring lawmakers appreciate the seriousness of the issue. Missouri businesses need to know they won’t be subject to frivolous COVID-19 litigation. This work is critical to our economic recovery. We call on lawmakers to make passing these protections their top priority as soon as the 2021 session begins.”

Missouri employers are strongly encouraged to contact their lawmakers and let them know that action is needed now on COVID-19 liability.

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