A bill signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott makes it tougher for businesses and certain organizations to be sued by employees who are exposed to COVID-19 at work.
Proponents say S.B. 6 will shield businesses still struggling with pandemic lockdowns from an avalanche of lawsuits, some frivolous. The bill protects healthcare providers, businesses, nonprofit organizations, religious institutions, and some schools, and it can be retroactively applied to cases dating back to March 2020.
To make a claim, a worker would have to do three things. First, the worker would have to prove their employer knew about and failed to warn the staff there was a condition in the workplace that would likely cause them to be exposed to the coronavirus. Secondly, the worker would need to show the business intentionally ignored the government’s safety standards. Lastly, the worker would have to show “reliable scientific evidence” to prove their employer’s actions led to them contracting the virus.
Bill Stops ‘Frivolous Lawsuits’
The bill is a justified response to business’ efforts to stay safe throughout the pandemic, said Texas state Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-District 9), author of the bill and chair of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, in a statement after the full state senate passed the bill.
“Business owners and employees went above and beyond throughout the pandemic to open and operate safely,” Hancock stated. “They don’t deserve to have their livelihoods destroyed by frivolous lawsuits.”
Texas Looking Out for Texas
Texas did what Congress or the Biden Administration would not do to protect businesses, says Merrill Matthews, Ph.D., a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation, a research-based, public policy think tank.
“Gov. Abbott took an important step by signing legislation that limits liability for certain claims against businesses, employers and many health care providers with respect to COVID-19 injuries and death,” Matthews said. “U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tried hard but failed to have even minimal liability protections included as part of Congress’s multiple Covid-19 relief spending bills. So, Texas and 29 other states—nearly all of them with Republican state legislatures—took action, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.”
“The good news is there hasn’t been as many civil lawsuits accusing businesses of negligently exposing customers, employees or patients to Covid-19 as initially feared,” Matthews told Health Care News. “But the recent surge of the Delta variant raises the possibility of more civil suits—especially now that states have relaxed or eliminated coronavirus-related restrictions, making it easier to accuse employers and health care providers of negligence.”
No Lawsuit Shakedowns
States need to rein in lawsuits that can cripple businesses and economies, says John Goodman, president and founder of the Goodman Institute for Public Policy Research and co-publisher of Health Care News.
“Tort lawyers are always looking for a reason to sue someone,” Goodman said. “And when they are successful, most of the money goes into the pockets of the lawyers, not into the pockets of the victims.”
“You can’t blame employers for COVID-19,” Goodman said. “Most businesses are trying to do their best, keeping workers safe and producing goods and service for consumers at the same time. They shouldn’t be liable for employee illnesses unless they are clearly negligent.”
Protecting Businesses, Employers
Devon Herrick, an independent health economist, echoed the sentiments of Matthews and Goodman about the need to protect businesses in these difficult times.
“Texas SB 6 is consistent with Gov. Abbott’s views that Texas needs an open economy,” Herrick said. “Allowing a flood of lawsuits against employers and businesses would be contrary to an open economy. Gov. Abbott also believes Texans should have the right to decide if they want the be vaccinated. He has [also] opposed mask mandates and closing the economy to slow the spread of Covid.”
Kenneth Artz (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Dallas, Texas.