GOP lawmaker introduces bill to expand business liability protections

GOP lawmaker introduces bill to expand business liability protections
© Greg Nash

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) has introduced legislation aimed at providing liability protections for businesses as states begin to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The measure takes aim at a key sticking point that has emerged in negotiations for coronavirus relief aid.

Biggs said he believes that the legislation is necessary to protect businesses from trial lawyers, arguing that companies and churches shouldn’t be held liable for reopening. 

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“While Congress can only address cases that fall appropriately into federal jurisdiction, we can provide necessary protection and clarity in this context. In the American judicial system, most tort cases originate and are resolved in states. The federal government must respect the purview of states in this area,” Biggs said in a statement. 

“Unfortunately, both in the Congress and around the nation, many Democrats are refusing to support efforts to protect our businesses and churches from unfounded legal risks. Failure to pass this legislation will lead to even more small businesses being permanently shuttered and countless more Americans being unemployed. We must give our society and economy the legal protections needed to maintain their operations in our communities. I call on my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to support this legislation. And I encourage states to similarly address this issue.”

Under the proposed legislation, federal civil action that includes negligence claims related to the pandemic would require courts to instruct the jury that “liability standard is the reasonable person standard,” which holds that individuals should be deemed negligent if they do something a “reasonably careful person” wouldn’t do in the same situation.

The bill says opening a business should lawfully be considered reasonable and that negligence can’t be found “solely on the basis” of reopening.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump vows to campaign against Murkowski after senator's criticism Senate advances conservation fund bill, House introduces companion Paul clashes with Booker, Harris over anti-lynching bill MORE (R-Ky.) has called for similar legislation to be passed in the upper chamber.

Biggs's proposal comes ahead of House Democrats being slated to pass a sweeping $3 trillion relief bill on Friday that would provide funding for state and local governments to fight the pandemic, among other provisions.