While House Democrats are pushing a $3 trillion monster spending bill, filled with a myriad of poison pills such as amnesty for illegal aliens, Senate Republicans have a more practical reform in mind, one that is crucial for businesses that desire to open their doors as their states start to ease up on lockdown orders.
The Hill explains:
“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that he and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) are working on legislation to expand liability protections for businesses as they begin to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic. McConnell, speaking from the Senate floor, said the forthcoming bill would include significant new protections and raise the liability threshold for medical malpractice lawsuits.”
The proposed bill is designed to ward off a nightmare that any business that proposes to operate during this year of the plague faces. Suppose someone owns a restaurant. They open for business once the state or local government approves it.
They follow all the guidelines, including social distancing, disposable menus, wait staff wearing masks and gloves, and so on. Even so, one of their customers gets sick anyway and, sure that he or she got the coronavirus while dining, decides to sue.
The prospect is like a dream for the trial bar. It will descend upon tens of thousands of small businesses like a flock of buzzards and pick them clean. Even the cost of fighting off such litigation will be prohibitive. Best to keep shut and hope for the best, when the vaccine that is being developed becomes available and thus lifting the threat of the pandemic.
How will the proposed Senate bill help with legal liability protection? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell explained.
“Senate Republicans are preparing a major package of COVID[-19]-related liability reforms. … Our legislation is going to create a legal safe harbor for businesses, nonprofits, governments, and workers and schools who are following public health guidelines to the best of their ability.”
McConnell is especially keen for schools to open up in the fall so that students will not lose another semester of learning and their parents will be able to go to work without having to worry too much about them. The Senate leader would also like to protect manufacturers of drugs and medical devices which will be crucial for fighting the pandemic.
McConnell has declared liability protection as the “red line” for any bill that passed the Congress. Senate Republicans will not support any legislation that does not contain the provisions.
Democrats, not unexpectedly, have exp4ressed opposition to anything that removes “protections for workers” by which they mean opportunities for trial lawyers to make big contingency fees. The trial bar is a big source of campaign contributions for the Democrats and it must be appeased.
Politico notes that the bill will be crucial for hospitals and other healthcare providers to start performing what is euphemistically called “elective procedures” again. While hospitals have been concentrating on dealing with the influx of patients with the coronavirus, people who have other, more common ailments, have gone begging. These procedures have included cancer and heart treatments in some cases, but also procedures that can more easily be delayed.
“Hospitals are warning they will be slow to restart elective procedures like knee surgeries and colonoscopies without assurances from Congress they won’t get sued by patients and their own workers if they are infected by the coronavirus during those visits. Powerful industry lobbies like the American Hospital Association pressing for relief in the next rescue package have gained a sympathetic ear from Republican leaders in Congress.”
Ironically, a lot of states, including deep blue state New York, have already passed sweeping immunity from coronavirus lawsuits, especially for healthcare providers. The New York provisions are helping to provide a framework for the federal legislation that is being crafted by Senate Republicans.
The smart analysis suggests that in the end, the two sides of the partisan divide will come to a compromise. The bill that emerges will contain liability protection and some of the spending but none of the poison pills wish list the House Democrats desire. The process of crafting such a bill is likely to prove Bismarck’s observation that two things should not be looked at too closely, law-making and sausage making.