As Missouri begins reopening our economy after the pandemic, I believe the last thing we want is a bunch of trial lawyers closing everything down again. There is a very real fear among our state’s business community that reopening restaurants, stores, and other small businesses invites the possibility of frivolous COVID-based lawsuits. It’s not hard to imagine why. If a person, unfortunately, contracted COVID-19, they may be tempted to sue every establishment they visited in the past two weeks — grocery stores, pharmacies, churches, and the like — blaming the establishment and seeking a lump sum payment. Unfortunately, I believe trial lawyers are all too happy to pursue such a claim. COVID lawsuits could effectively launch Lockdown 2.0, and we cannot have that.
That is why I fully support SB 51, which raises the bar for liability claims stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislation passed the Senate this week and now heads to the House of Representatives for its consideration. Most other states have already taken steps to shield businesses and organizations from pandemic-related lawsuits. SB 51 will protect all sectors of our economy from unmerited lawsuits if passed into law. Without SB 51, Missouri’s businesses, manufacturers, health care providers, schools, and churches could be subject to a stream of pandemic-related lawsuits.
SB 51 includes additional protections for churches and other religious organizations. The legislation provides Missouri churches with the highest standard of protection from COVID-19 lawsuits in the entire nation. Congregants should feel free to return to their sanctuaries without fear their church will be subjected to endless litigation. This bill makes pastors free to return to the pulpits, and practitioners can return to the pews. Without the protections in SB 51, the local church or parish could remain open to endless litigation.
In addition to reducing lawsuits, SB 51 also protects Missourians from compulsory vaccination, ensuring that our civil rights are not abridged. I believe vaccination decisions should be left to individuals, not the government. Without the protections of SB 51, a person in Missouri could be compelled to receive the vaccine under current law. Furthermore, SB 51 specifically exempts COVID vaccines from the liability protections of this bill. The legislation does not absolve big pharma of their responsibility to provide safe medicine. Instead, we are only trying to protect against liability for instances of disease.
All of these protections I’ve listed are lost without passage of SB 51. It is urgent that we put these protections into law soon to put a stop to abuse by trial lawyers. Already, I believe, trial lawyers and their lobbyists are working to twist the provisions of this bill to scare Missourians into opposing it. For the sake of public welfare, we must dispel the fake news and focus on the facts. We all want our state to reopen; we all want to protect businesses, schools, health care providers, and churches from preying trial lawyers. SB 51 will bring Missouri in line with the rest of the country, and provide the protections we need to protect our civil rights and to reopen safely and efficiently.
It’s my honor to serve as your senator for the 16th District. If you have questions or need any assistance, please call my office at 573-751-5713 or log onto my webpage at https://www.senate.mo.gov/brown for more information.
State Sen. Justin Brown is a Republican who represents SD 16.