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“No good deed goes unpunished”: Missouri businesses brace for devastating COVID-19 lawsuits

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Plaintiffs’ lawyers are gearing up to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to prey on vulnerable companies.

It’s a concern that doesn’t only apply to health care providers. Businesses and manufacturers, large or small, aren’t immune to this threat.

Elsewhere in the U.S., class actions have already been filed against hand sanitizer manufacturers because their packaging states they kill 99% of germs but there are no scientific tests proving they kill COVID-19. In another class action, plaintiffs are claiming that businesses requiring customers to wear face masks inside stores is an ADA violation which discriminates against individuals with respiratory conditions who can’t wear them — creating a lose-lose predicament for the targeted employers trying to do the right thing.

Lawsuits have been filed against Missouri manufacturers and more Missouri companies are bracing themselves to be dragged into court for similar suits.

And it’s not just claims of faulty PPE and essential products that were made in a time crunch —and often by manufacturers that don’t typically make them. Today, lawsuits alleging COVID-19 transmission in a business or workplace can move forward in Missouri regardless of whether companies are taking proper precautions.

“We will make every effort to protect our employees. The threat of lawsuits only slows the ability of companies and their employees to get the economy going again,” said Brian Kearns, president of SportsPlay Equipment Inc. in St. Louis.

“We have done more than recommended by our local health department and by the CDC to protect our employees.  Unfortunately, that does not protect us from opportunistic lawsuits,” said Peter Hollabaugh, general manager of KMMO Radio in Marshall.

“We have worked hard to stay educated and implement all the precautions that we can to prevent the spread of this virus,” said Charlene Winfiel from Symmetry Machining Services in Nevada, Mo. “It has worked so far, but it would be devastating to lose it all due to a frivolous lawsuit.”

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry is supporting efforts to stop these types of frivolous lawsuits from draining our health care system and economic rebound. Protecting our health care workers and manufacturers from opportunistic lawsuits is a key part of the Missouri Chamber’s coronavirus economic response agenda, Uniting for Recovery.

“I want to make it clear that we are not asking lawmakers to protect businesses that ignore government orders and defy public health recommendations. But companies that are taking the necessary precautions should not be subject to crippling COVID-19 litigation,” said Missouri Chamber President/CEO Daniel P. Mehan. “The Missouri Chamber’s recovery agenda makes it clear that we need to enact protections now so we can keep people safe and shield health care workers, manufacturers and businesses from lawsuit abuse.”

Such protections are gaining momentum across the U.S.

A national survey conducted by the U.S. Chamber Institute For Legal Reform in April found that 61% — nearly two-thirds — of respondents support coronavirus lawsuit protections. The poll showed support across the political spectrum, with Democrats, Republicans and Independents all agreeing that action must be taken against these lawsuits.

As of June 15, a majority of Missouri’s neighboring states have already adopted bipartisan reforms to protect health care and front-line workers from lawsuit abuse, according to the American Tort Reform Association. Across the nation overall, more than two dozen states have enacted these protections. In addition, a few states have enacted laws to stop lawsuits against companies that made new products to address the crisis. Some lawmakers in Congress are also pushing for similar protections to be included in any upcoming federal stimulus legislation.

As of June 15, more than 600 businesses, organizations and individuals have co-signed a letter by the Missouri Chamber asking Gov. Mike Parson to call a special session and address the growing problem of opportunistic COVID-19 lawsuits in the state.

Shepley Hermann, who manages Hermann Oak Leather Co. in St. Louis, was one of them. He said all the company’s workers have been paid full wages during their furlough. But bringing employees back in leaves his business wide open for litigation.

“Without liability protection, this covid pandemic will give new meaning to the term, ‘No good deed goes unpunished,’” said Hermann.

Sign the letter

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