COVID-19 liability protection debate lines drawn as Illinois congressman warns of taxpayer cost

The COVID-19 aid package Congress is working on could cost taxpayers between $1 trillion and $3 trillion, but a central Illinois congressman warns if liability protection for schools isn’t addressed, it could cost taxpayers even more.

Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Maisch said there are some real concerns from an employer getting hit with a claim an employee contracted COVID-19 at work, to possible lawsuits against any business that’s been open for creating a public nuisance.

“It’s a far stretch but we’ve seen trial lawyers stretch as far as they can in order to get as many dollars for their firm as they can access,” Maisch said.

Liability protection from virus-related lawsuits isn’t just for businesses. U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, said it should be for schools of all kinds.

If not “we’re going to have to have people sign waivers before they go to school, before they attend a high school football game, a high school basketball game, or any other public event,” Davis said. “And that’s just wrong.”

Opponents of proposals in Congress from Republicans include the American Association for Justice which said businesses should be held accountable ”if they don’t take proper precautions”.

“People won’t want to go back to work or shop at a store unless they feel safe, and that means ensuring that corporations can be held accountable if they don’t take proper precautions,” said Linda Lipsen, CEO of the American Association for Justice.

The group warned against “blanket immunity to corporations that act unreasonably and expose their workers and consumers to COVID-19.”

Davis said liability protection wouldn’t just protect businesses, it would protect taxpayers.

“Imagine ten years from now somebody deciding that they may have gotten COVID-19 while they were a student at the University of Illinois at Springfield for example and having a trial lawyer put a class action suit together that’s going to cost taxpayers millions,” Davis said.

Masich said liability protections aren’t just needed from the federal government.

“There’s a real need for state legislation to tie up loopholes that we believe the trial lawyers are going to exploit through the state statutes,” Maisch said.

Illinois lawmakers did pass a measure the governor enacted that limited employers’ liability in workers’ compensation cases related to COVID-19, but that expires at the end of the year and will likely be addressed again this fall.

This article was first published in The Center Square.

Leave a Reply