Former White House chief of staff and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel famously quipped, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” He intended it for politicians and activists. But another group is taking it to heart in the Covid-19 pandemic: trial lawyers. The American Association for Justice, the euphemistically named lobbying organization for personal-injury attorneys, has set up a website to help plaintiffs’ lawyers prepare Covid-related lawsuits against businesses. If elected officials do not act to rein the lawsuits in, America’s economic recovery will be substantially impaired.
Battle lines in Washington have been drawn. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, enacted March 18, protected manufacturers and distributors of medical face masks from lawsuits. The bill was bipartisan; legislators seemed to understand the need to spur production and distribution of personal protective equipment in the face of serious shortages for front-line medical personnel, and that remedying this was inhibited by the threat of lawsuits. But no more: Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have signaled an unwillingness to go any further, even as the White House and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have argued that any additional Covid relief legislation must offer liability protections for a broader swath of businesses, if they made best efforts to develop safety protocols.
James R. Copland is a senior fellow and director of legal policy at the Manhattan Institute. He is the author of “The Unelected: How an Unaccountable Elite is Governing America,” forthcoming in September. Follow him on Twitter here.
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