Last Updated: January 14, 2021
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security issued guidance designating certain businesses as critical infrastructure, including the convenience store industry and its supply chain. With more than 150,000 convenience stores, the convenience store industry has been committed to staying open during this time of crisis when Americans need them most to provide fuel, food, beverages, over-the-counter medication, and other goods and services.
In order to maintain daily operations, convenience retailers have gone to extraordinary lengths to protect both their employees and customers from the spread of the coronavirus. Businesses have worked hard to overcome numerous hurdles, such as constantly changing health guidelines and supply shortages. They have instituted intensive cleaning and sanitation protocols, provided personnel protective equipment to employees, enacted social distancing, among other measures.
Despite their best efforts, these businesses could face exorbitant civil suits alleging that individuals contracted COVID-19 at one of their locations simply because they have been open and operating during the pandemic.
Thousands of COVID-liability cases have been filed to date and this number continues to grow. Legal advertising by plaintiffs’ firms saw a substantial increase in 2020, indicating an uptick in outreach from firms aggressively seeking plaintiffs to bring lawsuits against businesses.
The convenience store industry has more than 150,000 convenience stores nationwide, 61 percent of which represent single-store operators. Costly and harmful litigation would be crippling to these businesses that are trying to meet the needs of their communities while surviving the economic disruption of the pandemic.
The businesses that answered the call to serve their communities when the country needed them the most need reasonable liability protections. It’s critical that Congress pass legislation providing liability protections to businesses for the duration of the national public health emergency. Legislation should not cover bad actors, but only those businesses who prioritized the safety of employees and guests and acted responsibly to mitigate the spread of the virus.