As we move into late June, the General Assembly has numerous high-profile issues to confront that will take a significant amount of time and attention.  However, what cannot be lost in the swirl of important matters before the legislature is the critical need to address COVID-19 related liability issues and giving Pennsylvania a smart restart.

Right now, many of our physicians, none of our hospitals or long-term care facilities, and none of Pennsylvania’s employers are protected from COVID-19 related lawsuits. 

Pennsylvania has made great progress in subduing the transmission of COVID-19 to the point where significant portions of the state and our economy are re-opening. While this is great news for employees looking to return to work and small businesses trying to hang on, Pennsylvania’s much needed recovery is threatened by the prospect of lawsuits.  If safe harbor is not given to our health care workers, health care providers and businesses as they re-open, Pennsylvania risks continuing economic stagnation.

Right now, Pennsylvania is the outlier.  Our neighbors, New York and New Jersey, have taken decisive steps to enact safe harbor protections. An executive order by Governor Tom Wolf has too many gaps.  No protection is provided for businesses meeting the unprecedented demand for personal protective equipment. No protection is provided for businesses as they re-open with the uncertainty of the continuing pandemic. No protection is provided for health care facilities that continue to treat the sick.

Restarting Pennsylvania’s economy will be inhibited if job creators are under the constant worry and threat of being sued by attorneys looking to place blame for COVID-19 exposure.

The threat of lawsuits is real. Thousands of businesses that have recently reopened across the state are asking their employees and patrons to sign waivers to protect themselves in the event they get sued.  In western Pennsylvania, the grocery store chain Giant Eagle is being sued for requiring customers to wear masks, per the governor’s executive order. Trial lawyers are advertising on television and the internet looking for plaintiffs to file suit against long-term care facilities, health care providers and businesses.  

Restarting Pennsylvania’s economy will be inhibited if job creators are under the constant worry and threat of being sued by attorneys looking to place blame for COVID-19 exposure. Businesses that follow health care guidance and requirements should not have to worry about being sued and potentially put out of business.  Many businesses are understandably reluctant to open under these conditions as found by surveys from the US Chamber of Commerce and the NFIB.  

Now that the immediate health threat of COVID-19 is behind us, Pennsylvania’s leaders have the responsibility to address the threat of a global pandemic’s impact on jobs, businesses and the economy. Protecting our businesses from lawsuits alleging exposure to COVID-19 so they can re-open without being victimized by attorneys looking to profit off the pandemic must be a priority. Protecting health care providers and practitioners who have responded to the crisis without hesitation, is our responsibility. Pennsylvania’s recovery must not be squandered by lawsuits. The General Assembly must act now and finish the job before adjourning for the summer.

Curt Schroder is executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice

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