Public Opposed To COVID-19 Business Immunity, Poll Finds

By Y. Peter Kang
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Law360 (May 6, 2020, 7:00 PM EDT) -- A majority of Americans are against giving reopened businesses blanket civil immunity for COVID-19 infections suffered by workers and consumers, according to a survey commissioned by a plaintiffs attorney group published Wednesday.

Out of approximately 1,200 bipartisan voters in a nationally representative sample, 64% said they are opposed to giving civil immunity to companies in connection with cases over coronavirus infections, according to a poll conducted in late April by Hart Research at the behest of the American Association of Justice, formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.

In addition, 61% of respondents said granting corporate immunity would result in the spread of COVID-19 and cause more people to get sick, while 60% said if companies knew they couldn't get sued they would take fewer precautions to safeguard their employees and customers.

"There is a recognition by voters that some businesses will cut corners," Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research, said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters. "In that context, what voters are telling us — across party lines — is that they oppose the idea of giving guaranteed immunity to companies for cases involving coronavirus infections."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week that a broad liability shield will be a top Republican priority for the next COVID-19 relief bill, arguing that companies need protection from lawsuits as they reopen and try to revive the moribund economy.

But Linda Lipsen, CEO of the AAJ, said McConnell has perennially sought liability shields for corporate America since he became a senator more than three decades ago.

"This move by Senator McConnell is counterproductive because it's punishing individuals for no fault of their own and is punishing all of us who are trying to stop the spread," she said Wednesday during the call with reporters.

McConnell also said last week during an interview with Fox News Radio that a liability shield for businesses and health care workers will be his "red line" in the next round of negotiations because "trial lawyers are sharpening their pencils to come after health care providers and businesses, arguing that somehow the decision they made with regard to reopening adversely affected the health of someone else."

Congressional Democrats are expected to fight such a liability shield, which would have to pass the Democrat-led House. A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on April 27 that "the House has no interest in diminishing protections for employees and customers."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a pro-business lobbying group, conducted its own survey showing a majority of Americans support protecting employers from coronavirus suits.

That poll, released Tuesday, indicated that 61% of respondents said Congress should protect businesses from such suits, with 84% of respondents saying essential businesses such as grocery stores and pharmacies should receive liability shields.

--Additional reporting by Andrew Kragie. Editing by Stephen Berg.

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