On August 18, 2020, Nick Reiter was quoted in Inc. on liability claims surrounding COVID-19 in light of the GOP’s proposal to enhance protections for businesses in its version of a Phase 4 stimulus bill, dubbed the Heals Act.
According to the article, rather than requiring plaintiffs to prove a company did not take reasonable care to prevent injury, sickness, or death on their premises – the current standard of liability – the provision in the Heals Act would require plaintiffs to prove that a company acted grossly unreasonably.
The provision became a breaking point in congressional negotiations over a Phase 4 bill and prompted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to adjourn the session. Even if these reforms don't pass, the current bar in liability cases is high.
Employees might find that forums for their legal claims are limited. Workers are typically required to file claims with state workers' compensation agencies, which may go before an administrative law judge. An employer's insurer may defend the claim and/or negotiate a settlement, which is typically limited to a portion of a worker's salary, payment of medical bills, and disability compensation.
That doesn't mean companies can afford to be lax about safety. "Employers don't get to just sit back and say 'OK, workers comp; we're covered,'" says Reiter. "If they're not protecting their employees, they can be hauled into court for an injunctive relief claim." In these cases, employers may be barred from engaging in the harmful practices and be required to improve safety conditions.
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