After dealing with months of imposed closure, small business owners could potentially have a new concern to think about in the form of meritless COVID-19 lawsuits. Small business owners throughout the U.S. now must consider how a single COVID-19-related lawsuit could hold the potential of putting a small business owner in even greater danger of losing their business. The possibility of a lawsuit brought by a customer or third party is a further complication for businesses that are still dealing with post-shutdown economic ambiguity and the continuing pandemic related concerns and costs of keeping employees and customers safe.
Understanding the potential harm of such lawsuits against small business owners, NFIB (National Federation of Independent Business) is urging state and federal governments to take the necessary and precautionary steps to protect small businesses in their state. The need to be proactive is underscored by results from an NFIB survey that found 70% of small business owners are worried about the potential of litigation because of exposure to the coronavirus strain, otherwise known as COVID-19.
“These businesses are not looking for a get-out-of-jail-free card,” said Karen Harned, executive director of the NFIB Small Business Legal Center. “They are looking for assurances that they won’t get sued if they do their best to operate safely. Workers are wanting to feel safe going into work and our members are very focused on that.”
While there is some consideration to liability protections through potential federal legislation, it will be necessary to also provide protection and assurances on the state level. Right now, 13 states have passed COVID-19 liability protection. These states include Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming.
Legislators in these states are advocating for enforced legislation protecting these individuals and their businesses because of the frequent adjustments they must make for their business to reflect the current local climate.
“Small businesses make decisions not just on a daily basis, but almost an hourly basis in terms of what staff they deploy, how they direct their staff and how they recommend their staff self-quarantine,” said Bill Herrle, executive director for NFIB in Florida. “Lots of decisions are COVID-driven and there’s liability in those decisions. Small business owners very much feel that someone must have their back in that and that has to be the state.”
To learn more about the what’s happening in your area, visit the NFIB advocacy website and click on the link for your state.