Written by Guillermo Moreno
It was disappointing to see Speaker Nancy Pelosi come out strongly against liability protections for essential businesses that have continued to provide critical services to communities and families struggling during this unprecedented challenge.
Essential businesses answered the call when the Department of Homeland Security designated them as part of the critical infrastructure workforce. Virtually overnight, these businesses had to adapt to social distancing regulations and mask mandates, and increase cleaning procedures to do their best to keep everyone safe and healthy when little was known about how the virus was contracted.
While other businesses were closed or had their employees work from home, businesses like grocery and convenience stores stayed open so people still had access to fuel, food and other home goods and needed supplies. At a time of uncertainty, these businesses were a critical lifeline to our communities.
Now, because these businesses have stayed open throughout the duration of the pandemic, they are at an increased risk of being sued by someone who claims to have contracted the virus at their establishment.
But, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out, the coronavirus has reached community spread, which makes it nearly impossible to determine exactly where it is contracted. On the flip side, this will make it extremely difficult for businesses to prove that they were not the source of the virus. And combating completely unfounded lawsuits, regardless of the outcome of the case, would likely be too expensive for small businesses that are already struggling to stay open.
While Speaker Pelosi’s concerns regarding the need to hold negligent business owners accountable are valid, no one wants those types of businesses to be protected. Everyone agrees that those who have suffered harm due to negligence deserve a recourse to be compensated.
But businesses that have enacted safety precautions, additional cleaning measures and have done their best to protect their employees and those that enter their essential business, while abiding by constantly changing regulations on the state and federal level, deserve the support from Speaker Pelosi and deserve reasonable liability protections.
We know California businesses are struggling to survive, and employees are worried if their job will still be around at the end of the year. The state’s unemployment rate is currently 13.3%, which represents 2.5 million people statewide. And according to Yelp Inc., California accounts for the “largest number of permanent business closures in the country” since the start of the pandemic.
Members of both parties should do everything they can to support small businesses that employ the people of the state and provide valuable goods and services to our communities. This is why reasonable liability protections are so important. Frivolous or unfounded coronavirus-related lawsuits could force more businesses to close for good. The fear of the financial burden of fighting unfair lawsuits could prevent businesses from reopening in the first place.
In particular, essential businesses that stayed open, instituted safety policies and have done their best to remain a resource for the community while providing a healthy environment are the exact type of businesses that deserve these protections. They were there for us at a time when we needed them the most.
Guillermo Moreno is chief operating officer and host of The Guillermo Moreno Show on TalkRadio 1550AM KXEX