As our region slowly advances on the path toward recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing the ripple effects of this unprecedented crisis throughout our economy. The New England Council has heard from members throughout the region and across an array of industries about a concern they all share: frivolous lawsuits. After all the hardships that our region’s businesses have faced in recent months, they should not now be threatened with costly litigation. As such, the Council believes it is vital that Congress enact legislation that will provide temporary liability relief as a key step to support economic recovery.
Many essential businesses remained open throughout the pandemic to provide critical services, despite many challenges, ranging from a shortage of protective equipment to an evolving understanding of the virus and how it spreads. Our healthcare workers and facilities have truly been on the front lines of fighting this virus, with medical professionals putting themselves in harm’s way to save lives. Retailers remained open to ensure access to groceries and other vital supplies. Life sciences companies have worked around the clock to develop treatments and possible vaccines. And manufacturers stepped up to produce everything from ventilators, to personal protective equipment, to hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.
As infection rates gradually decrease throughout our region, our economy is slowly reopening, with businesses taking much care to ensure that the appropriate precautions are in place to keep people safe. Employers of all types and sizes are reopening their doors – to their employees and clients. Restaurants and retailers are gradually reopening to customers, all eager for a return to more normal life.
Over the summer months, it is expected that the region’s tourism industry will gradually recover and Americans from all over the country will begin visiting their favorite New England vacation spots. And of course, come September, elementary and secondary schools will welcome back students, and colleges and universities will reopen their shuttered campuses.
All of these actions further underscore the need to protect our workers and businesses who are complying with public health guidance issued in their state. And so, it is critical that Congress enact legislation that will provide reasonable, time-limited liability protection for businesses, non-profit organizations, and educational institutions who are taking all appropriate steps to prevent the spread of the virus.
Our leaders in Washington have worked quickly, and in a bipartisan manner, to enact a range of measures to provide relief and help our economy recover. As the House and Senate consider next steps to address the economic impact of the pandemic, liability protection must be a top priority. Businesses and organizations have already suffered significant losses as a result of this crisis, and if they now must also defend themselves against frivolous and costly lawsuits, it will only further exacerbate the challenges they face.
We recognize that there are some concerns that such limited liability protections for industry could leave individuals without recourse, but we believe that strong, effective language can be crafted that protects the interests of all. This is truly an unprecedented time, and we urge our leaders in Washington to develop a solution that will protect those good actors in the business community who follow public health guidance and take appropriate precautions. A bipartisan approach is possible, and will go a long way toward helping our economy recover.
James T. Brett is the President & CEO of The New England Council, a regional alliance of businesses, non-profit organizations, and health and educational institutions dedicated to supporting economic growth and quality of life in New England.