Dan Mehan: Stopping the wave
There are many challenges ahead as lawmakers begin the 2021 Legislative Session. But one issue should be clear cut: The legislature must immediately act to stop opportunistic COVID-19 lawsuits.
Unlike many legal reform issues, this is not a complicated problem to understand.
Trial attorneys around the nation are working overtime to turn the COVID-19 crisis into their own personal money-spinner. Since the pandemic began, more than 1,000 virus-related lawsuits have been filed across the country — with more filed each month.
In response, many states, including all but one of Missouri’s neighboring states, have worked to reduce or stop these lawsuits. Thus far, Missouri has done nothing.
Lawyers in our state are free to seek damages based on allegations that people were exposed to COVID-19 on the premises of an employer. These suits can go forward here regardless of whether the employer was following public health recommendations to keep employees and customers safe.
Today, this threat looms over every employer in Missouri — including businesses, schools and health care providers.
When the Missouri Chamber published an open letter calling for action on this issue, nearly 800 Missouri businesses and individuals signed on.
This situation is hurting Missouri’s ability to recover from the pandemic. We regularly hear from employers that they are reluctant to reopen and return to work knowing this could leave them exposed to frivolous lawsuits.
When the 2021 session convenes in January, it will be up to Missouri lawmakers to address this issue.
Fortunately, there seems to be support from key officials in Jefferson City including Gov. Mike Parson and leaders in the Missouri House and Senate.
We are urging these officials to consider COVID-19 liability an urgent matter that deserves emergency legislation as their first priority in 2021.
Successfully addressing this issue would be a great first step for the many new lawmakers beginning their terms in 2021. During the Nov. 3 election, Missouri voters wisely selected pro-jobs candidates to fill Missouri House and Senate seats. In fact, 42 of the 44 candidates endorsed by the Missouri Chamber Political Action Committee won their elections.
The best way for these lawmakers to show they are serious about growing Missouri’s economy is to support the urgent passage of this legislation.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry will continue to champion this issue until the job is done. As we do this, we need your help.
Please consider contacting your lawmaker and asking them to pass legislation to shield employers from opportunistic COVID-19 lawsuits.
It’s clear that a flood of COVID-19 litigation is coming. If we fail to act now, far too many employers might end up underwater.