COVID-19 Federal Legislation and Executive Actions
COVID-19 Relief Package
On December 21, 2020, Congress voted for a second COVID-19 relief bill, which did not include liability protections.
HEALS Act Package and SAFE TO WORK Act
On July 27, 2020, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell revealed his HEALS (Health, Economic Assistance, Liability protection, and Schools) Act legislative package to address the next steps in coronavirus relief.
The liability portion of the package, the SAFE TO WORK (Safeguarding America’s Frontline Employees To Offer Work Opportunities Required to Kickstart the Economy) Act, will provide liability relief for businesses, healthcare workers and facilities, educational institutions, local governments and more.
“This legislation strikes the right balance between ensuring safe environments for workers, providing a liability shield for entities that follow government health guidelines, and preventing trial lawyers from taking advantage of the crisis and filing frivolous lawsuits,” American Tort Reform Association President Tiger Joyce said.
Business Interruption Litigation
As COVID-19 business interruption lawsuits surge amid the pandemic, ATRA warns that the civil justice system exists to resolve disputes—not to perform the functions of legislators, regulators and the public health community.
As of July 23, 2020, at least 3,727 lawsuits have been filed related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of those lawsuits, more than 1,000 involve contract disputes and insurance claims. With the end of the pandemic still nowhere in sight, the number is expected to significantly rise over the coming months. Plaintiffs’ lawyers across the country are pouring millions of dollars into advertising with hopes of drumming up new business. They spent $67 million between January and May of this year on mass tort TV advertising, a 6.6% increase from the same time last year when the time slots were more expensive.
Coronavirus Provider Protection Act (H.R. 7059)
ATRA supports H.R. 7059, the Coronavirus Provider Protection Act, which seeks to provide protection for healthcare workers, as well as the facilities in which they practice, from COVID-19-related liability. This piece of legislation was introduced by Congressmen Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and Lou Correa (D-Calif.).
Employer Liability Protection
ATRA is pleased that both President Trump’s administration and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are prioritizing liability protections for health care workers, manufacturers and business owners. We urge Congress, the administration and individual states to foster a reliable and predictable business climate that will give companies confidence to reopen for business without fear of potential legal repercussions should an employee contract COVID-19 while at work.
Facilitating Innovation to Fight Coronavirus Act
On March 30, 2020, Sen. Ben Sasse (R – Neb.) introduced the Facilitating Innovation to Fight Coronavirus Act which would limit liability for health care providers who are testing, treating or otherwise countering the effects of coronavirus.
Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act)
On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was signed into law. The CARES Act includes a “Good Samaritan” provision to protect volunteer healthcare professionals from civil liability while simultaneously providing patient protection in cases of gross negligence or criminal misconduct.
Such a federal provision allows healthcare professionals to travel where they are most needed to combat the deadly coronavirus without fear of liability based on a patchwork of interstate licensing requirements.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act
On March 18, 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, including liability protection for manufacturers of some respiratory masks, was signed into law.
Liability protections for manufacturers allow them to provide an ample supply of masks for healthcare workers and patients to slow the spread and protect immunocompromised individuals without fear of legal backlash should any of those masks fail.
Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act)
On March 12, 2020, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act) that healthcare workers and others working to combat COVID-19 will be offered certain liability protections.
Liability protections will enable those who are on the frontlines in healthcare to work toward combating this outbreak, without fear of legal repercussions in the likely circumstance that they may have to turn some patients away.