CPR Calls on Congress to Preserve Citizen Access to the Courts in Wake of Pandemic

James Goodwin

May 12, 2020

Yesterday, a group of 20 Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) Board Members, Member Scholars, and staff joined a letter to House and Senate leaders calling on them to reject efforts to attach to future COVID-19 pandemic-related legislation provisions that would interfere with the ability of workers, consumers, and members of their families to hold businesses accountable when their unreasonably dangerous actions have caused workers or consumers to contract the virus. Instead, as the letter urges, lawmakers should ensure that our courthouse doors remain open to all Americans to pursue any meritorious civil justice claims for injuries they suffer arising from companies' failure to guard against the spread of the coronavirus.

The letter comes as the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to hold a hearing this afternoon on the topic of “Examining Liability During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Insulating corporations against public accountability through the courts has long been a top priority of conservative lawmakers working at the behest of industry lobbyists. Now, following the lead of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), congressional Republicans are seeking to hold future COVID-19 pandemic relief measures hostage in the service of advancing this goal. As McConnell cynically put it: “"My red line going forward on this bill is we need to provide protection, litigation protection.” The hearing this afternoon appears to be the first step in making good on this threat.

As the CPR letter explains, our civil courts and the justice they make available are particularly essential now because the Trump administration and Congress have failed to step up and establish the kind of protective standards necessary for preventing avoidable exposure to COVID-19. The letter also rejects the argument that insulating corporations against civil justice accountability measures is necessary to prevent so-called frivolous litigation. Instead, as the letter explains, tort law has useful mechanisms in place for weeding out non-meritorious lawsuits.

The letter closes by noting that active and responsive civil courts will prove essential to reviving the U.S. economy once the threat of the pandemic begins to subside by helping to assure “Americans that avoidable exposures caused by companies’ failure to institute protective measures will be remedied.”

In addition to this letter, CPR has been working actively with its progressive advocacy allies to make the case for protecting the American people against COVID-19 pandemic-related harms, including by preserving unfettered access to our civil courts. Last month, CPR joined a letter signed by 117 labor, worker, consumer, small business, civil rights, women’s rights, environmental, legal, justice, health and safety organizations to congressional leaders similarly opposing legislation that would immunize unsafe businesses against litigation arising from their misbehavior during the coronavirus pandemic. Also last month, CPR was among more than 200 worker safety organizations to join a letter urging members of Congress to pass the COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act, which would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to protect all workers who continue to go to work during the pandemic from exposure to the coronavirus.

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