NJBIA has been urging lawmakers to provide some legal immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits for businesses that open responsibly and follow the best guidelines for keeping employees and customers safe. Now a national law firm is collecting data on how big a problem legal liability can be as states reopen their economies.
Using data from its COVID-19 Employment Litigation Tracker, Fisher Phillips Litigation Team found that of the 283 COVID-19-related lawsuits filed in federal and state courts, 122, or 43%, were filed in June.
Melissa Camire, Richard Meneghello and Kristen Nesbit, members of the firm’s litigation team, say, “many of the suits were filed after employers refused to grant requests for unpaid time off, refused to allow employees to work from home, or failed to provide adequate personal protective equipment.”
Camire, Meneghello and Nesbit explain that the data is a stark reminder for employers that typical best practices should not be ignored. “Employers need to be diligent to make sure their policies and practices are in compliance with the COVID-19 requirements, whether on the state, federal or local level,” they said.
In New Jersey, legislators have introduced liability protection bills, but no votes are scheduled as yet. S-2634 (Gopal, D-11), S-2628 (Diegnan, D-18) and A-4377 (Freiman, D-16) would establish general immunity against actions relating to the coronavirus pandemic or related viral strain provided the business follows the best guidance available at the time.
The immunity would bar civil lawsuits, and in the case of businesses and institutions of higher education, any administrative proceedings. It would apply in cases where a person was required to be on a business’ property or the exposure occurred at some other place while conducting business, activities and operations, providing services, or doing volunteer work on behalf of a business or institution of higher education.
NJBIA Chief Government Affairs Officer Chrissy Buteas stressed that the association is only looking for protection for businesses that act responsibly to protect people at their facilities by following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection as well as other safety requirements.
“The safety of employees and customers has to be the first priority, and businesses as a whole are taking their responsibilities seriously,” she said. “Unfortunately, our legal system allows businesses to get sued even if they do all of the right things, and that threat of legal action could prompt organizations to delay their reopening. If New Jersey is going to reopen successfully, immunity from coronavirus lawsuits has to be part of the plan.”