NY Times Opinion: McConnell’s Rush to Protect Businesses Endangers Everyone Else

May 18, 2020

To reopen safely, companies need good, clear and mandatory guidelines, not immunity from liability.  There’s a tension at the heart of all of the plans to reopen the country in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic: The economy needs Americans to get back to work, but workplaces need employees and customers to feel that coming back won’t endanger their health or their lives.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, seems to be concerned primarily with the first half. The biggest obstacle, as he sees it, is not a deadly disease but rapacious trial lawyers, capitalizing on the virus to chase ambulances and bankrupt American businesses.

“If people don’t come and businesses are afraid to open because of the lawyers that are lurking on the curbside outside their doors, we won’t have the reopening we want,” he said late last month. He warned of “years of endless lawsuits” from employees and customers flooding the courthouses with claims that a business’s negligence infected them with the virus. He’s called this supposed wave of litigation a “second pandemic.”

As Congress gears up for the next installment of its stimulus package, Mr. McConnell has drawn a line: No more money for anyone until businesses get immunity from liability during the pandemic. The demands being debated include making it harder to claim that a business is at fault for a worker’s or customer’s infection, protecting businesses that are making personal protective equipment like masks for the first time, and protecting employers against privacy lawsuits if they disclose a worker’s infection.

The problem is that immunity doesn’t just shield the worst actors; it also punishes the best, by giving a competitive advantage to the businesses that decide to cut corners at the expense of worker and customer health and safety.

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