The rise of coronavirus cases in Arizona has caused Gov. Doug Ducey to shut down the state’s bars, gyms, movie theaters, and water parks for at least the next 30 days. As the rules and regulations regarding how businesses are supposed to conduct their operations continue to change rapidly, in the state and across the country, it serves as an important reminder why reasonable liability protections from coronavirus-related lawsuits are necessary and should be passed on the federal level.
Liability protections provide businesses, particularly those that were asked to stay open as part of the nation’s critical infrastructure workforce, with security knowing that they won’t be sued out of business from frivolous lawsuits if they have been taking reasonable precautions during the pandemic to keep their employees and customers safe.
In addition, it would encourage businesses that are legally allowed to open to do so safely knowing that they have these important protections, which would be a key component of stimulating the economy of Arizona and help address rising unemployment. As it stands, over 1.6 million Arizonans are now collecting jobless benefits.
Essential businesses like mine remained open over the course of the pandemic, providing consumers with fuel, groceries, over-the-counter medication, and cleaning suppliers, in addition to other necessities. But now, being a resource to the community has left me particularly exposed to litigation since we were open when few other businesses were.
And since the state is reversing course and closing more businesses, essential businesses are back to being one of the few targets for those looking to sue businesses with coronavirus-related lawsuits.
While there should not be liability protections for reckless business owners who purposefully broke the law and put the health and safety of their employees and customers at risk, that’s not most businesses.
The Arizona House rightly tried to provide a reasonable liability shield for businesses from coronavirus lawsuits. The liability shield would have raised the standard for people to sue businesses for coronavirus-related claims from negligence to gross negligence, meaning those who sue would have to show “clear and convincing evidence” that a business was grossly negligent. Unfortunately, this bill did not become law before the legislative session ended.
But this policy would have taken Arizona in the right direction, and a similar policy should be considered on the federal level.
While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated that liability protections would be a key component of the next round of coronavirus relief, we have seen some Democrats, like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, come out in opposition to this policy. But thankfully we are also starting to see growing support from House Democrats like Representatives Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, Lou Correa, D-Calif., and Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who have all come out in support of some form of liability protections for businesses.
Now we are counting on our federal elected officials like Arizona Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally to support reasonable liability protections in the Senate. Given that many businesses operate in multiple states, a federal law would provide much-needed clarity for businesses and consumers alike. And essential businesses like mine deserve reasonable protections from frivolous lawsuits that could put us out of business.
Ed Flores is the owner of Pic-n-Run in Flagstaff.