After over a year of lockdowns and COVID, we finally see a light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks to the expedited vaccine roll-out spearheaded by the Trump administration, our country is on track to having enough vaccines for every American by the end of May. With all of the progress we have made, we cannot slow up now.
While we are in the midst of reopening, the danger of the pandemic is not completely out of sight. It’s important that we recognize that there are people who are still susceptible and that COVID-19 can still get people sick. However, this is a problem that we all bear — it is not unique to any individual or organization. Private entities should not have to bear the public burden of reopening.
Yet, that is the very real danger that our hospitals, businesses, and churches face when they decide to open. As of right now, litigious plaintiffs and their trial lawyers are free to sue the local church, the local hospital, or the local manufacturer based on outlandish claims that a person contracted COVID from one of those establishments. Even though any claim of getting COVID from a particular place would be hard to prove, the truth isn’t the name of the game when it comes to these lawsuits: The whole point is to scare establishments into a quick and easy settlement rather than spend thousands to litigate the truth of the matter.
That is why Missouri needs to act now to put a stop to COVID liability — to nip these lawsuits in the bud before they start shutting down businesses again. Other states are recognizing this danger and taking steps to stop it.
Florida is the most recent state to take firm action to curb COVID liability. There, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill to make it much harder for trial lawyers to sue local businesses. In his signing statement, DeSantis summed up the reasoning perfectly:
“Over the course of the past year, our state’s businesses, health care providers, and other organizations have been forced to operate in fear of frivolous lawsuits with no merit threatening their livelihoods. As we move forward in our state’s economic recovery, this good piece of legislation will provide Floridians with greater peace of mind as they go to work, go to school, and go about their daily lives.”
The people of Florida are fortunate to have a quick-moving legislature and a governor who is not afraid to buck the trial lawyers. But Florida’s legislation makes it more difficult to sue, but not impossible. Missouri follows the same model as Florida by raising the standard by which a person may allege a lawsuit but still allow for someone who is truly harmed by another to file suit. This is a delicate balance to ensure someone can have redress in court while also protecting our state from frivolous litigation.
We all may believe it would be ridiculous to sue someone else for catching the common cold, but in this litigious day and age, we have to address this issue on COVID-19 to move past this time in history and get back to moving Missouri forward. All are treated the same in Missouri’s bill with the exception of churches which, if passed by Missouri, will have the strongest protections in the country akin to absolute immunity from suit which is why it’s so important to get SB 51 passed ASAP. Every day of delay is another day that allows the trial lawyers to gear up and go after our local establishments.
State Rep. Jamie Burger is a Republican who represents HD 148. He was first elected to serve in 2020.