Businesses fear lawsuits amid coronavirus reopening, US Chamber chief says

American businesses are worried about getting sued as some prepare to reopen amid the coronavirus crisis, the head of the US Chamber of Commerce says.

Businesses are “anxious” about reopening because the pandemic has created a patchwork of rules and regulations that could expose them to legal liabilities, according to chamber president Suzanne Clark.

When you have a whole new playbook, there are unfortunately a small number of the plaintiffs’ bar who really go hard and look for liability,” Clark said Thursday during a virtual Axios event. “They’re already organizing against healthcare workers and hospitals and medical device manufacturers. And so it scares business owners that there could be a second big economic risk coming.”

Some states have announced plans to reopen non-essential businesses in the coming weeks after lockdowns meant to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Georgia was set to let some stores reopen Friday, with Tennessee to follow next week.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said this week that businesses shouldn’t be held liable if customers or workers come down with the virus as states lift restrictions.

But businesses are concerned about “litigation risks” amid uncertainty about legal and regulatory issues, according to Clark. For instance, she said, they’ll have to navigate how to follow workplace guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has issued extensive coronavirus guidance.

“We’re asking CEOs to operate in a totally different, unprecedented time,” Clark said. “After years of saying don’t discriminate on the basis of health and age, now we’re saying protect your vulnerable populations. When we usually say keep your health data private, now we’re saying you wanna make some things public so that we can trace people who have this virus or understand who has immunity.”

Businesses that reopen will also have to rely on essential services such as day care and transportation and make sure they have crucial equipment such as masks and thermometers, Clark said.

“While businesses are anxious to reopen for their families and for their communities, for their employees, they wanna make sure when they do it, they do it properly,” she said.

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