Missouri Senate begins discussions on COVID-19 lawsuit protection bills
Spurred by hundreds of concerned employers across the state, a Missouri Senate committee is discussing a bill to curb frivolous COVID-19 lawsuits.
The Missouri Chamber is leading the charge on this issue, joined by nearly 800 Missouri business and individuals who have co-signed a letter asking for action.
“These are small, medium, and large employers, representing varied sectors of our economy, including retail, health care, hospitality, manufacturers, and transportation,” said Missouri Chamber Vice President of Governmental Affairs Matthew Panik, who testified in support of the protections at a committee hearing on Jan. 19. “Many businesses have struggled through the pandemic and the prospect of expensive litigation could be too much to face as the recovery continues.”
The matter grows more urgent daily. More than 5,000 COVID-19 related legal complaints have been filed nationwide, which has compelled leaders in 32 other states to enact some form of protection against these suits for those following public health guidelines.
But Missouri businesses, health care systems and schools remain completely exposed.
Senate Bill 51 — sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, a Republican from Parkville — aims to address this. A similar bill, SB 42, is being brought by Sen. Bill White, a Joplin Republican.
With Congress yet to pass federal level protections, Sen. Luetkemeyer said the responsibility to pass these measures is states’ responsibilities.
“The task now falls to us. Senate Bill 51 closely mirrors the legislation introduced in Congress last year,” Luetkemeyer said at the bill’s initial hearing.
Businesses and other entities would not have a safe harbor from litigation if they intentionally cause harm or otherwise act recklessly, Sen. White clarified.
“If you have a bad actor, [lawsuits] are still available,” said Sen. White.
Daniel P. Mehan, Missouri Chamber president & CEO, said passing these protections is the Missouri Chamber’s number one focus this session.
“This threat of COVID-19 litigation looms over every employer in Missouri and hurts our state’s ability to recover from the pandemic. We regularly hear from employers that they are reluctant to reopen and return to work knowing they could be exposed to frivolous lawsuits. This is the Missouri Chamber’s top priority this session and we urge lawmakers to pass this much-needed legislation as soon as possible,” said Daniel P. Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.