NJBIA's Public Policy Forum: The Road to Recovery REGISTER

NJBIA has been pushing for both the state government and Congress to enact liability protections for businesses as they reopen. It looks like those efforts may be yielding some results.

According to NJBIZ, legislative leaders have begun showing support for the concept of providing businesses with limited legal immunity against COVID-19 lawsuits as the state rolls back restrictions across the board on when businesses can open their doors.

NJBIA and the 100-member New Jersey Business Coalition are not looking for blanket immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits. Rather, they want to create a “safe harbor” that protects business from lawsuits if they have followed the guidance available at the time for keeping workplaces safe for both employees and customers or visitors.

According to NJBIZ writer Daniel Munoz, Senate President Stephen Sweeney seems to support the idea.

“If you followed all the guidance and you did everything humanly possible, why are you going to be punished if you’ve done everything you’ve got to do?” Sweeney said at a June 9 webinar jointly hosted by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and the New Jersey Business & Industry Association.

Nationally, the White House and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said that such legal immunity for businesses would be a major concession in exchange for federal support to states such as New Jersey, which is seeing a $10 billion revenue shortfall as a result of the COVID-19 recession, and massive expenses to combat the pandemic, Munoz reported.

Gov. Phil Murphy was more circumspect, saying, “I can appreciate the fact that if you’re a restaurant, by example, and you’re about to take this step, that it weighs on you and I can appreciate that.

“[T]he concern is an understandable one, given the environment, the extraordinary environment that we’re in,” he added.

New Jersey has already granted legal immunity to hospitals and healthcare providers, providing civil and criminal immunity so healthcare professionals would not be liable for any injury or death of a COVID-19 patient under their care.

NJBIA Chief Government Affairs Officer Chrissy Buteas said such immunity is necessary to get businesses open and start repairing New Jersey’s economy. If a business is not confident about its potential liability, it may decide to keep its doors shut.

“We want to make sure a business is not strangled with a frivolous lawsuit,” Buteas told Munoz. “The liability protection is critical if a business adheres to everything that the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) puts out.”