Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell proposed laws in April 2020 to protect property owners and businesses from being considered negligent if their failure to follow COVID-19 guidelines results in someone contracting the virus. Even nursing homes are lobbying for blanket immunity when it comes to the spread of COVID-19 in their facilities. This is the latest move in a decades-long push to protect businesses from accountability for their actions. How could this move protect organizations from being charged with other kinds of negligence as well? Here’s what you need to know.
Blanket Immunity During COVID-19
15 states are already under laws or governors orders that protect against care facility or nursing home COVID-19 lawsuits. Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan are some of our neighbors who have adopted these laws. Utah’s legislature approved a bill that makes property owners and business operators immune to lawsuits by people exposed to COVID-19. This is basically similar to the bill currently proposed at the Federal level.
As of April, more than 600 COVID-19 related lawsuits have been filed against businesses. As of May, 28,000 residents in long-term care facilities have died from COVID-19. However, instead of pushing for or requesting science-based assistance and tools to keep patients healthy, the nursing home industry has spent millions of dollars pursuing corporate immunity against lawsuits related to the virus.
How Blanket Immunity Makes Negligence Invisible
The argument for blanket immunity is based in the idea that some factors are beyond an organization’s control. For instance, laws protecting nursing homes include elements like “shortages of protective equipment and testing, shifting directives from authorities, and sicknesses that have decimated staffs.” However, in some cases facilities may have knowingly been operating with a shortage of such equipment and failed in their duty to be prepared or get prepared in a timely fashion. And beyond these factors, other negligence may be swept under the rug. This could include ongoing previously neglectful behavior, or staff knowingly breaking rules like putting patients or employees too close together.
The American Association for Justice has spoken out against corporate immunity legislation, stating, “Immunity for corporations when they fail to take basic safety precautions against COVID-19 will cause more American workers and consumers to die and further hamper our economic recovery.”
For more information and insight into the problems of corporate immunity, take a look at AAJ president-elect Tobi Millrood’s powerful personal account about his own family’s losses during the COVID-19 crisis recently published in the New York Times. You can also follow the AAJ on Twitter and Facebook.