This week, the Washington Post published a report on the issue that might cause stimulus negotiations to break down: liability shields for employers from coronavirus claims. The bill currently has a bipartisan proposal for businesses to have a one-year liability shield from coronavirus claims (except in cases involving gross negligence or intentional misconduct). Leading Republicans are demanding that businesses have a five-year shield.
The reasoning for the lengthy window of immunity? To prevent a ‘flood’ of claims from employees suing businesses for coronavirus infections. However, there’s no reason to believe there will be a flood. According to the article, as of November, there have only been about 234 personal injury and wrongful death cases filed for coronavirus-related issues nationwide. That represents 1.5% of all injury and wrongful death cases filed this year.
Meanwhile, there have been approximately 1,300 complaints filed by employers against insurers for business interruption
The fact is, injuries and wrongful deaths related to COVID-19 haven’t materialized into lawsuits because workers are already facing an uphill battle. Proving the employer’s fault for the transmission of disease will be exceptionally difficult for most cases.
National Spotlight on Our Publix Lawsuit
In March of this year, 70-year-old Gerardo “Gerry” Gutierrez asked his employer Publix Super Markets if he could wear a mask at work. His employer prohibited Gerry from wearing a mask—even though he was working with customers and in close contact with co-workers at the deli counter. Soon after, a coworker who was exhibiting COVID symptoms was allowed to continue working. Within days, Gerry was infected and required hospitalization. Unfortunately, after a weeks-long battle with the virus, he died.
Gerry’s case is a perfect example of why employees need the ability to sue their employers for misconduct and negligence. Other grocery store chains at the time were allowing their employees to wear homemade masks at work, whereas Publix felt that workers wearing masks would scare away customers.
“People have rights that need to be addressed in the court system,” Michael E. Levine said to the Washington Post. “Businesses should be held accountable when they’re not keeping their workforce safe, and when they’re taking away the rights of their employees to keep themselves healthy.”
“If workers are safe, consumers can have confidence in going out,” he added.
“That’s what we need to rebuild the economy.”
Read the Washington Post article here.