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Washington Examiner

Stop the lawsuits related to the coronavirus pandemic

by Quin Hillyer | April 03, 2020 05:03 PM

The last thing this country needs as it tries to recover from the coronavirus pandemic is a spate of lawsuits trying to scapegoat others for the contagion. Yet, such lawsuits are already queuing up in American courts, making it even more important for Congress to intervene against them.

As I wrote nearly three weeks ago, this pandemic is (in insurance terms) an “act of God,” and it’s absurd to try to assess legal blame for it. It’s also immoral to try to profiteer from it, especially at the expense of third parties who, like everyone else, were in uncharted territory in dealing with the crisis.

And, on a macroeconomic level, these lawsuits can hamstring companies that are desperately needed for the nation’s economic recovery. They also could further jam up a court system that already will face backlogs because so many court proceedings are being postponed during all the “stay-at-home” orders from state and local authorities.

Alas, as USA Today reports, “Workers are suing companies. Businesses are suing insurers. Prison inmates and migrants in detention, abortion providers and gun shop owners are suing federal and state governments. Colleges, cruise lines, and even China have been among the targets of lawsuits seeking damages for the COVID-19 calamity. And the nation's notoriously litigious society is just getting started…. Type 'coronavirus lawsuit' into Google and watch the numbers explode. A recent attempt turned up nearly 3 billion hits in one-third of a second.”

Obviously, there will be contract disputes that arise from all the event and venue closures. Courts obviously will need to resolve those. What should be banned is tort lawsuits, trying to assess blame and secure damage payments for a situation in which just about everybody was flying blind.

Unfortunately, the newspaper reports, “Some of the nation's biggest law firms are bringing together attorneys specializing in different areas to create new coronavirus practice groups, task forces, and resource centers.”

This is despicable. These law firms are bloodthirsty vultures. They should not be allowed to seek profit from pain caused by an international force of nature. At the very least, they should be blocked from all attempts to secure “punitive damages” and strictly limited on “pain and suffering” awards.

One sort of liability protection should be a particular imperative. Medical workers and good Samaritans rushing to offer assistance should be shielded from lawsuits.

“This is a call for all hands on deck,” Atlanta attorney Lashonda Council-Rogers told the ABA Journal, explaining that many doctors and nurses are not, and should not, be focusing on liability. “This is a good Samaritan situation.”

Thus, as the publication reports, “Attorney William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute in Tallahassee, Florida, is urging Florida officials to limit the liability of physicians and nurses treating COVID-19 patients…. Advocates want to eliminate the potential snare of professional liability for physicians related to COVID-19 cases.”

Furthermore: “Large gives an example of a doctor who can’t make a definitive diagnosis based on symptoms or outpatient tests and sends the patient to a hospital for inpatient testing: ‘But now they can’t because hospitals need the beds for COVID-19 cases,’ he says, adding that this scenario could expose the doctor to potential medical malpractice claims. There could be future lawsuits against doctors who had very rational reasons for doing what they did.”

Tort law usually, and properly, is largely the province of state government rather than the national one. Still, Congress sometimes has made exceptions and nationalized some tort rules. This time of crisis is definitely an exception that should supersede the normal rule. Congress should act, now.