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New Jersey businesses are going to need liability protection from COVID-19 lawsuits if the state’s economy is going to reopen successfully, and that is especially true for the state’s manufacturing sector.

During a hearing by the Legislature’s bipartisan Manufacturing Caucus this week, a nationally recognized expert on legal issues for manufacturers explained why a “safe harbor” liability protection needs to be enacted for businesses that have acted responsibly during the pandemic. She supported iterative health and safety guidance from government because what we know about the pandemic is constantly changing, but that inherently means that manufacturers need to be shielded from lawsuits as long as they are complying with the rules in place at the time.

Linda Kelly, general counsel for the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), told the caucus the unprecedented impact the virus has had on the public health, and government’s response to it, have left manufacturers vulnerable to lawsuits claiming they have somehow contributed to the infection of people.

NJBIA and the New Jersey Business Coalition have called for liability protections for businesses that follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for their employees and customers.

NAM has developed a list of proposed reforms. As Kelly explained on NAM’s website, “We need to extend good Samaritan protections to cover those who donate equipment, or who may be producing protective gear or even ventilators and more complicated medical equipment for the first time. We need to bar suits for public nuisance against critical manufacturers, as well as shareholder suits that try to ‘Monday-morning quarterback’ decisions manufacturers have to make every day in the face of tremendous regulatory uncertainty.”

She has described the reforms as narrow, applying only during the emergency and for a “wind-down” period after the declared emergency ends. “We need reforms that prevent abuse of our legal system, while at the same time holding any actual bad actors accountable,” she said.