ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Liability is a growing threat to businesses—like convenience stores—that have stayed open to serve communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. While convenience retailers are working tirelessly to protect their associates and provide goods and services to their customers, some individuals looking to take advantage of this crisis are plotting legal action against them, alleging that their clients were exposed to COVID-19 at these businesses.
The convenience store industry has continued its operations during the crisis as part of the critical infrastructure workforce, as designated by the Department of Homeland Security. In its guidance, the agency stated, “If you work in a critical infrastructure industry, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, such as healthcare services and pharmaceutical and food supply, you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule.”
The convenience store industry has heeded this call to action and remained open to provide Americans access to fuel, groceries, over-the-counter medication, cleaning supplies and other necessities during this crisis. In addition, retailers have increased cleaning and sanitary procedures at stores to protect both employees serving on the front lines and customers who visit their stores.
Despite these efforts, there are some plaintiffs’ attorneys who are already running television ads looking to build class action lawsuits against essential businesses that have stayed open during the crisis.
For this reason, NACS is leading an effort supporting legislation that provides liability protections for essential businesses from claims related to COVID-19 exposure, provided businesses were not grossly negligent. Congress is currently considering what will go into a phase four stimulus package, and NACS is actively advocating for reasonable liability legislation protecting the critical infrastructure workforce.
While this legislation would have to pass both chambers of Congress, the White House has indicated that it supports liability protections as America discusses steps to re-open the economy. On CNBC this week, President Trump’s economic advisor Larry Kudlow stated, “You’ve got to give the businesses some confidence here that if something happens, and it may not be their fault—the disease is an infectious disease—if something happens, you can’t take them out of business. You can’t throw big lawsuits at them.”
In a special session on Thursday, the Utah legislature passed legislation that would protect businesses and property owners in Utah from civil suits alleging someone was exposed to coronavirus on the premises. Utah is the first state to pass liability protections from coronavirus exposure claims.
As Congress considers federal liability legislation, NACS encourages members of the convenience store industry to use our Grassroots Call to Action portal to send a pre-drafted letter to your representatives urging them to support reasonable liability protections for essential businesses.