Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) removes a mask he is wearing to protect himself and others from Covid-19 as he arrives to speak to the media following the weekly Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 5, 2020.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) removes a mask he is wearing to protect himself and others from Covid-19 as he arrives to speak to the media following the weekly Republican policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 5, 2020. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Consumer Groups Warn Against Shielding Corporate Giants From Covid-19 Liability Lawsuits

"Businesses' calls for immunity are premised on a false choice between the return to a healthy economy and allowing businesses to be held accountable if they cause people to get sick."

Jessica Corbett

In a joint letter Wednesday to the Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress, six consumer rights groups expressed concern that "a broad range of businesses are seeking immunity from potential liability related to contracting Covid-19" and urged the federal lawmakers to block any attempts to weaken state-level protections.

Public Citizen, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, National Consumer League, and U.S. PIRG wrote that they all "oppose vigorously any proposals that the federal government override state-law claims and remedies that enable workers and consumers to hold companies accountable through the civil justice system."

"Such proposals, if enacted, would undermine consumer and worker protections, excuse negligent conduct, and show unwarranted disrespect for state law, including centuries-old state-law remedies," the groups warned House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

"Businesses' calls for immunity are premised on a false choice between the return to a healthy economy and allowing businesses to be held accountable if their carelessness causes people to get sick," the letter argues. "Companies' purported concern about lawsuits leading to catastrophic bankruptcies is a smokescreen for an opportunistic attempt to use the anxiety that we all share today to push through a groundbreaking weakening of the law."

The letter notes that since far before the pandemic, businesses have worked to weaken "crucial" state laws that enable injured individuals to sue companies or stores, and details the history of businesses being held liable for failing to meet basic standards of care. The groups also highlighted some examples of cases that may be brought in relation to the current public health crisis.

"A nursing home that failed to take precautions recommended by its state health department, or a company that encouraged employees to come to work after an outbreak at the facility—these businesses should not be immune from liability," the letter says. "As in any litigation, the businesses may have defenses that will prevail in court—but they should not be immune from liability."

Recognizing the role that states have played in protecting those on the front lines of this crisis, the letter adds that "good public policy, a commitment to worker and public health and safety, respect for the states and our federalist system, and common sense—all counsel against immunizing companies from liability when their own conduct causes harm."

In a statement Wednesday, Public Citizen noted that the new message to congressional leadership—which was published in full online—followed an April 29 letter from 118 groups similarly pressuring Congress to block any effort to "establish nationwide immunity for businesses that operate in an unreasonably unsafe manner, causing returning workers and consumers to risk Covid-19 infection."

Both letters also echo public sentiment, according to polling results released (pdf) Wednesday by Hart Research. Among a nationally representative sample of 1,202 voters, 64% of all respondents "oppose giving guaranteed immunity to companies from lawsuits in cases involving coronavirus infection."

Notably, that was the majority opinion across the U.S. political spectrum. Granting businesses immunity was opposed by 72% of Democrats, 64% of Independents, and 56% of Republicans surveyed. The poll also found that 61% of all voters believe that granting corporations immunity would lead to more Covid-19 cases.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), has scheduled a hearing for May 12 entitled "Examining Liability During the Covid-19 Pandemic." According to The Post and Courier, dozens of business groups in Graham's state "are calling on federal legislators to protect employers from legal liability if workers develop Covid-19 after returning to the workplace."

As the Charleston-based newspaper reported Thursday, "Led by the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, a coalition of organizations representing manufacturers, truckers, retailers, and others say efforts to restart the economy are threatened by the risk of employers 'becoming the targets of coronavirus-related lawsuits,' according to an open letter to the state's senators and representatives."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'We Need Fewer Guns in Schools, Not More': Teachers Reject GOP Call for Armed Educators

"Teachers should be teaching, not acting as armed security guards," the president of a leading teachers' union asserted in the wake of the Robb Elementary School massacre in Texas.

Brett Wilkins ·


Faith Leaders, Teachers Mobilize for Protests at NRA's Houston Meeting in Wake of Uvalde Massacre

"Don't look away," said one advocacy group. "Rally against the NRA."

Julia Conley ·


NY Appeals Court Rules Trump and Two of His Kids Must Testify in Financial Fraud Case

"Our investigation will continue undeterred because no one is above the law," said New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Kenny Stancil ·


After Racist Massacre in Buffalo, Senate GOP Blocks Domestic Terrorism Bill

"There are a lot of MAGA Republicans for whom no amount of gun violence... will ever, ever convince them to take any action," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Jake Johnson ·


Ocasio-Cortez Endorses Entire Slate of Democratic Socialists in NY

"As AOC knows," DSA For the Many tweeted, "when we fight together, we win together!"

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo