HCLA presses Congress to pass COVID-19 liability protections

By Sarah Downey National Source

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  • May 29, 2020

SOURCE: North California Record

Congressional leaders on Capitol Hill last week heard testimony on expanding liability protections during the COVID-19 pandemic, a measure that many say is necessary to prepare for reopening the nation’s economy.

While Republicans have been backing such protections, and Democrats have answered with a new $3 trillion stimulus bill, behind the scenes there looks to be bipartisan support for passing some form of liability shield during the pandemic, Katie Orrico, vice chair of the Health Coalition on Liability and Access (HCLA), told the Northern California Record.

“To the idea that something does in fact need to happen, there has been a bipartisan willingness to entertain that, so ultimately the question will come down to how broad are those protections,” said Orrico, who is also director of the Washington office of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) / Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS).

“It’s not in the HEROES bill, that is a placeholder bill, and the real bill is being negotiated behind the scenes, and so we’ll see how this sorts out, but this is a top of the line issue that is in active discussions and hopefully won’t get too politicized,” Orrico said.

Shortly after the declaration of the pandemic, the HCLA wrote to Congress with its views; as the pandemic has evolved, scores of business groups have stated their concerns in correspondence to lawmakers.

Republicans in Congress have maintained that liability protections must be part of the next relief bill.

“Senate Republicans are preparing a major package of COVID-related liability reforms to foster our economic recovery,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “This package, which Senator [John] Cornyn and I are spearheading, will extend significant new protections to the people who have been on the front lines of the response and those who will be on the front lines of the re-opening.”

In submitted testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, the HCLA noted there has already been aggressive advertising by plaintiffs’ attorneys.

“The types of liability limitations my colleagues and I are interested in providing would simply prevent frivolous and nuisance lawsuits from harassing our frontline health care workers and small businesses,” Cornyn, R-TX, said on the Senate floor. “We need to keep them from having to suffer and perhaps not survive this second pandemic that will be caused by opportunistic litigation.”

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Liability protections also have the support of the Trump administration, Orrico said.

Both sides of the aisle agree there can’t be blanket immunity in cases of negligence, but reasonable protections related to COVID-19, Orrico said.

“In the context of the coronavirus, liability protections are an essential element for businesses and physicians and hospitals to get back up and running as an integral part reopening America,” Orrico added.