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Lawmakers Must Act to Protect More Businesses from Excessive COVID-19 Litigation

As we work to relaunch North Carolina’s economy, our members have consistently told us that one thing is at the top of their minds: the safety of their employees and customers. Employers across our state are doing things the right way, looking to the latest guidance from public health authorities like OSHA and the CDC and developing back-to-work strategies that can return workers to their livelihoods while protecting their lives. Unfortunately, opportunistic plaintiffs’ lawyers have eyed the COVID-19 pandemic as a chance to make a windfall by bringing frivolous lawsuits against job creators who are doing everything in their power to get people back to work safely.

At the NC Chamber, we believe in protecting employers who do business the right way. That’s why, when the N.C. General Assembly convened in April to begin COVID-19 relief discussions, we let them know we’d be focused on limiting employers’ coronavirus liability concerns. The reforms passed in Senate Bill 704 – which established protections for employees and customers of essential businesses – were a good start, but they were limited in their scope. If we hope to enable businesses to relaunch effectively, we must broaden these protections to cover all businesses operating legally in North Carolina, from essential manufacturers and grocery chains to main street retail outlets and restaurants.

Policymakers must understand that limiting litigation abuse across all sectors is essential to our recovery from this pandemic. Health care workers must be able to do their jobs, schools must be able to educate students, and businesses must be able provide the public with essentials like food, medicine, and a well-paying job – without fear of costly and unwarranted lawsuits. That’s why, as the General Assembly continues to negotiate COVID-19 relief measures, our government affairs team is urging them to give all employers a greater assurance of protection from predatory litigation practices.

The priorities we’re focused on include balanced reforms that will give businesses a safe harbor when they follow an appropriate standard of care to protect their employees and customers from COVID-19 while still allowing for litigation to be brought against businesses engaging in gross negligence or willful misconduct. In addition to lobbying our state’s legislature for these protections, we’re also supporting our national allies, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who are asking for similar protections from Congress.

This issue will remain at the forefront of our advocacy agenda for as long as predatory litigation practices remain a threat for North Carolina employers. Our aim is to ensure the General Assembly secures these protections before adjourning sine die to close out the 2019 – 2020 session later this summer. As our team works to address these issues, keep an eye out for our weekly This Week at the Capital newsletter every Friday for updates on specific legislation.