Recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic has required an all-hands-on-deck effort — from medical personnel on the front lines, to child-care providers and educators who have developed new methods, to nonprofits and businesses that have reoriented operations — all in the name of public health. Across the nation, ordinary people have been thrust into extraordinary circumstances.
Here in Pennsylvania, we have come together, committing to follow state and federal health guidelines and operate safely. Across industries, businesses continue to spend tremendous time, money, and resources to comply with the latest state and federal health and safety guidelines. Yet, they have been denied reasonable safe harbor protections from unwarranted lawsuits that pose a constant threat. Unfortunately, though predictably, profiteering plaintiffs’ attorneys have taken notice — they’re already seeking to capitalize on this pandemic by bringing forth opportunistic lawsuits, all in the name of financial gain.
Indeed, an absence of targeted and temporary liability protections, solely for those adhering to safety guidelines, has left medical personnel, businesses, nonprofits, schools, and others vulnerable. Across the commonwealth, there are already reports of lawsuits against businesses, some of which have been filed simply because an employee has asked a customer to put on a mask in accordance with the Wolf administration’s orders. A quick online search or glance at the TV shows plaintiffs' lawyers already investing in a campaign to target businesses with COVID-related ligation, and data backs this up. According to a Deep Root analysis of KANTAR ad occurrence data, the law firm of Morgan & Morgan has targeted the Philadelphia media market heavily in its advertising, seeking COVID-related cases. So far in 2020, Morgan & Morgan has spent nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in Philadelphia advertising, and has the highest level of viewer impressions of any law firm.
We at the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform (PCCJR) support a robust safety net for COVID-19 patients but allowing widespread lawsuits against those following safety protocols is the wrong approach. And make no mistake, frivolous litigation threatens to set back Pennsylvania’s recovery efforts — putting the state at risk for additional economic and societal hardships.
That’s why the PCCJR — a statewide nonpartisan coalition representing a wide-range of industries, and dedicated to reforming Pennsylvania’s civil justice system to be fair and balanced — is working to combat these types of egregious legal practices. The PCCJR is advocating for limited and temporary liability protections that will encourage best practices by safeguarding those operating in good faith to comply with safety requirements, while still holding bad actors accountable. The targeted, temporary liability protections found in state Senate Bill 1239 (sponsored by State Sen. Lisa Baker) will protect those following safety guidelines, thus providing the incentive for businesses to take care of their employees and customers. Bad actors are not left off the hook, however. Those acting in an intentional or grossly negligent manner will still face liability for their actions.
This is not a partisan issue — it’s supported by employers and community organizations across the commonwealth and associations representing a wide range of constituencies, including advocates for children, nonprofits, the United Way, YMCAs, pediatricians, colleges and universities, school districts, and small businesses. It makes sense that those who have acted in good faith to follow government guidelines should be able to operate in confidence that they will not have to dedicate additional financial resources to defend themselves against an unwarranted lawsuit.
Limited liability protections are a critical component of moving Pennsylvania forward through the next phase of the pandemic. Our elected officials in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. need to act now to prevent further economic downturn.
Curt Schroder is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform. firstname.lastname@example.org