Coronavirus Federal Immunity Threat – SAFE TO WORK Act

Even as billions of dollars are pouring into struggling businesses, the people who depend on these businesses are getting short shrift. Legislation in PA is now seeking to enshrine this imbalance by giving businesses immunity to coronavirus-related lawsuits.

On the national level, the SAFE TO WORK Act proposes a broad level of immunity for businesses that may have been negligent in taking COVID-19 precautions. The bill has 23 co-sponsors and is currently under deliberation.

On the state level, Pennsylvania joined numerous other states in considering increased coronavirus immunity for businesses — until Governor Wolf vetoed the bill. But such ‘immunity shields’ are becoming a trend, and they may pose a threat for anyone harmed by a business’s negligent actions.

In this evolving situation, those affected by such negligence need the right counsel on their side. The lawyers at McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt are some of the best in the business for navigating liability — even in cases where laws limit it.

Protecting Businesses at the Expense of People

The SAFE TO WORK Act includes heightened requirements and legal hurdles intended to discourage coronavirus lawsuits. These include:

  • Requiring plaintiffs to identify all contacts made during the 14-day period before the onset of symptoms, and show why they believe these other contacts were not the cause of the exposure
  • Limiting compensatory damages to economic losses, except in the case of willful misconduct 
  • In cases deemed meritless, defendants would be able to sue for monetary damages, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees
  • The act would impose a suite of restrictions on class actions, requiring unusual documentation and a plaintiff class that must affirmatively opt-in to the lawsuit instead of being involved by default

Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming have already enacted coronavirus liability shield laws on the state level. Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and South Carolina are among the states considering similar legislation.


Possibilities for a New Bill in PA

The opposition to Pennsylvania’s proposed COVID-19 civil liability bill pointed to instances of overreach embedded in the law. At the end of November, Pennsylvania Governor Wolf made it clear that he sided with the critics when he vetoed the bill.

But some who voted against the bill aren’t strictly opposed to the idea of coronavirus-related immunity. State Senator John Yudichak, an independent of the 14th District, voted against it — but afterward made comments that suggested some support for immunity.

“This bill was really a broad overreach, that’s why I did not support it. We do need certain protections, we’ve got to have short term limited liability protection. This just went a little too far,” Senator Yudichak said.


These Laws Shouldn’t Affect Worker Compensation

One thing that all of these liability shields have in common so far is that they don’t limit the ability of workers to obtain compensation related to workplace COVID-19 exposure.

However, some of the state laws provide legal immunity for healthcare providers, adult care facilities, nursing homes, and product liability claims. Many of the protected entities are essential services, and people affected by coronavirus-related negligence are just as dependent on these businesses as their workers are.

This is a quickly evolving area of law, and people hurt by the negligent actions of others would be wise to seek counsel as soon as they can.

When to Consult with an Experienced Liability Attorney

While it’s possible for individuals to navigate some areas of liability law on their own, coronavirus liability cases are a new area of law that will require an experienced and adaptable legal team on your side.

At McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt, we have over 30 years of experience in navigating complicated liability cases. We take all claims on a contingency basis, and will only charge you attorney fees if we are able to obtain financial compensation for your losses. 

McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt welcomes clients local to our Philadelphia offices and those from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and further afield. To schedule a meeting for a free consultation, fill out our form, or call us directly at 1-866-521-0865.