All of us in Missouri have had a challenging year due to the government-imposed COVID-19 shutdowns, social distancing, and other restrictions. A year later, there is seemingly a light at the end of this tunnel. Our businesses are starting to reopen, students are returning to schools, and people are starting to assemble together once again.
With all the progress we have made in response to COVID, we cannot allow our state to backslide into shutting down again — no matter how that may come about. That is why we cannot let our state’s business, hospitals, churches, and schools be plagued by the threat of COVID liability suits. We have to take action and pass COVID liability protections, like those in SB 51, to ensure our return to a free and open society.
As it stands in Missouri, every single establishment in this state is at risk of being sued because of COVID liability. An individual who contracts COVID could turn around and sue every single place in the community where they may have been exposed. These potential lawsuits are championed by trial lawyers, who make easy money by forcing quick settlements from businesses and other entities with assets to protect. Our local establishments are under severe financial stress as a result of the pandemic, and now they face another financial burden of defending themselves against trial lawyers looking to exploit the legal system with frivolous COVID liability lawsuits.
Missouri is not alone in seeking COVID liability protections. Twenty-four other states have already passed bills into law that contain COVID liability protections similar to those found in SB 51. Meanwhile, 20 other states have used executive orders to address COVID liability. I don’t want my local church or school being forced to shutter its doors out of fear of being sued by trial lawyers, which is why I support Missouri joining with the other states by fixing this issue proactively. It is important to note that SB 51 goes one step further than other states by crafting the strongest COVID liability protection in the nation for our churches and religious organizations.
Furthermore, SB 51 provides civil liberty protections for individuals by making it illegal to force any Missourian to get a COVID vaccine against their will. SB 51 stops any government entity in this state from forcing a needle in anyone’s arm. Without SB 51, this strong protection does not exist.
Additionally, SB 51 does not take liability away from vaccine manufacturers for any harmful side effects that may arise from the COVID vaccine. While everything points to the vaccines being safe right now, the state is not providing a liability shield to pharmaceutical companies.
Without the strong liability protections in SB 51, Missouri establishments remain under constant threat of lawsuits from trial lawyers. Missouri has come so far in reopening; we cannot let potential litigation from the COVID pandemic inhibit our economic and social recovery. The General Assembly has the chance with SB 51 to finally provide this needed liability protection for all Missourians.
John Wiemann serves as the House Speaker Pro Tem. He has represented HD 103, which includes St. Charles County, as a Republican since 2015.