Legal Risks From Virus in Reopenings Worry U.S. Business Group

Businesses across the U.S. face the possibility of being sued by customers or employees who may be exposed in the establishments to the Covid-19 virus once the economy starts to reopen, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told hundreds of thousands of members on Monday.

Policymakers should consider giving protection to businesses that follow federal, state or local health guidelines as long as their actions “do not amount to gross negligence, recklessness, or willful misconduct,” the conservative-leaning lobbying group said in aletter posted online.

“This is perhaps the largest area of concern for the overall business community,” the Chamber said of the legal risks.

The lawsuits — likely to include negligence and so-called public nuisance claims — may be driven by cash-strapped states and cities and could threaten the survival of some businesses, even though it would be difficult to prove exactly where people picked up the virus, according to the letter.

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“If enough claims are brought, the scope and magnitude of the litigation still may exert enough pressure to threaten businesses or industries with bankruptcy,” the organization said. The threat “will deter some businesses from reopening even after it is determined that they could safely operate by following the guidance of appropriate health authorities.”

The chamber suggested reforming some procedures, including requiring some claims to be brought in federal court instead of state courts. The group also suggested “prohibiting or tightly circumscribing public nuisance claims.”

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