WASHINGTON—Representatives Garret Graves (R-La.) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) introduced bipartisan legislation in the House of Representatives last week that would provide liability protections for entities that took precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“For most small businesses, just one frivolous tort claim over the spread of COVID-19 could mean the difference in weathering this crisis versus closing their doors forever,” stated Rep. Graves.
The Get America Back to Work Act of 2020, H.R. 7528, would cover businesses, universities, non-profits, religious organizations, and health-care professionals who made good faith efforts to comply with federal, state and local guidance. The legislation would be limited from the time period of January 1, 2020, to 18 months after the end of the public health emergency declaration. Entities and individuals would not receive liability protections in cases where there is willful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or a conscious flagrant indifference to the safety of an individual.
“This bipartisan legislation will enact liability protections for businesses that adopt safety protocols to shield them from frivolous lawsuits. Furthermore, these much-needed legal protections also prioritize the health of workers if businesses show gross negligence or blatant indifference to these standards. As a former small business owner, I am committed to fighting for [the] well-being of our small businesses, workers and rebuild[ing] our strong economy,” stated Rep. Cuellar.
NACS has been a vocal advocate for legislation that would provide liability protections for businesses who have taken necessary precautions to protect employees and guests. At the onset of the crisis, the convenience industry was designated as part of the nation’s critical infrastructure workforce by the Department of Homeland Security. As essential businesses, convenience stores have strived to stay open and provide Americans with needed access to fuel, food and other necessities. However, remaining open has presented significant challenges to retailers as they try to mitigate the virus and comply with evolving health guidance from federal, state and local agencies.
In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in May, NACS Treasurer Kevin Smartt, who is the CEO and president of Kwik Chek Food Stores, discussed these challenges and made a compelling argument for why essential businesses need liability protections from unwarranted claims.
Given the onslaught of COVID-19 legal claims, the issue of liability is top of mind for lawmakers as they begin drafting another stimulus package in response to the virus. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has stated publicly that the Senate will not pass a bill without liability protections in it, and Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) is working on liability legislation. It is anticipated that the next stimulus package will be considered before Congress leaves for the August recess.
You can take action on this critical issue today by visiting our NACS grassroots portal and asking your Representative to co-sponsor the Get America Back to Work Act.