‘No Consequences for Negligence That Kills’: McConnell Wants Corporate Immunity From Covid-19 Lawsuits

Jerri-Lynn here. Not content with pushing his judicial nomination agenda alone, Mitch McConnell has allied with the usual ‘tort reform’ suspects here, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to further circumscribe corporate immunity for certain COVID-19 claims.

This program is one that many Democrats could get on board with.  I note that when George W. Bush was President, some Democrats voted in favour of the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 – including a certain then-junior Senator from Illinois.  This was part of a broad agenda of statutory and procedural measures that pushed the balance away from plaintiffs towards corporate defendants (further reinforced by judicial selection).

See the similar waffling from Sen. Chuck Schumer mentioned in this short piece. What will he ultimately do? I wouldn’t bet on him and other congressional weasels, Republicans and Democrats, doing the right thing here and shutting down these mooted changes to the existing  tort law framework, thus leaving workers who get sick as a result of corporate negligence without any legal recourse.

By Jake Johnson, staff writer at Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is demanding that Congress use the next Covid-19 stimulus bill to shield corporations from legal responsibility for workers who contract the novel coronavirus on the job, throwing his support behind a proposal pushed in recent weeks by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other right-wing organizations.

The Kentucky Republican said in a statement Monday that companies could be hit with “years of endless lawsuits” if Congress doesn’t provide employers with liability protections as states begin reopening their economies.

“McConnell wants to immunize companies from liability when they make their workers go back to work, and those workers inevitably get sick,” tweeted The Atlantic‘s Adam Serwer.

In a Monday interview on Fox News Radio on the heels of his statement, McConnell said he considers liability protections for companies a non-negotiable demand for the next coronavirus stimulus legislation. Progressives are calling for a package that provides more protections for frontline workers and the unemployed.

“That’s going to be my red line,” McConnell said. “Trial lawyers are sharpening their pencils to come after healthcare providers and businesses, arguing that somehow the decision they made with regard to reopening adversely affected the health of someone else.”

Justin Wolfers, an economics professor at the University of Michigan, tweeted that McConnell is arguing that companies “should have the right to be negligent, and suffer no consequences for negligence that kills their staff.”

“At the present moment, do we want to tweak incentives to make employers more negligent, or less negligent?” Wolfers asked.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y) called McConnell’s demand for corporate immunity “subterfuge” in an interview on MSNBC Tuesday morning, but did not rule out the proposal as part of a broader relief package.

Drew Hammill, deputy chief of staff for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), told Politico that “the House has no interest in diminishing protections for employees and customers.”

McConnell’s comments came a week after President Donald Trump said the White House is looking for ways to protect companies from legal action by workers who are infected with Covid-19 on the job.

“We are trying to take liability away from these companies,” Trump told reporters during a Coronavirus Task Force briefing last Monday. “We just don’t want that because we want the companies to open and to open strong.”

The Washington Post reported last week that the Trump administration is exploring the possibility of issuing through executive action “a liability waiver that would clear businesses of legal responsibility from employees who contract the coronavirus on the job.”

“In recent days, the White House has considered whether the liability waiver should apply to employees, too, for instance to include a waiter who fears being sued by a customer,” the Post reported. “This idea would require congressional approval, and its fate among Democrats is unclear.”

Debbie Berkowitz, director of the worker safety and health program at the National Employment Law Project, called the push for a liability waiver for corporations “horrible.”

“The idea companies can be held accountable is absolutely crucial to protecting workers,” Berkowitz told the Post. The proposal to shield companies from liability, she said, “is one of the most appalling things I’ve heard in the context of this crisis.”

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  1. JBird4049

    I was just about to go to bed and I see this.

    Unfortunately, I cannot use the words I want to use to express my feelings on this. I will say that Both. Parties. Must. Die. Stake, Holy Water, flamethrower, bazooka, insecticide,…whatever. I don’t care anymore about being reasonable or measured anymore.

    If a probable unemployment rate and economic retraction greater than that of the Great Depression cannot get these fools from honestly and directly with a crisis capable of such seriousness then they need to be gone and ideology or factionally loyalty can go hang.

    1. Tomonthebeach

      Well said. You get life in prison or a death sentence for killing somebody in the act of committing a crime – like theft. However, committing mass murder by forcing people to expose themselves to a fatal disease while in the act of advancing corporate profits or obeying orders from Der Trumpenfuhrer is penalty-free under the new indemnity law? Let’s hope Congress finds its moral compass.

      In a pique of logical irony, if indemnity did become law, could assassins plead self-defense?

  2. Nick

    And what is anybody going to do about it? These types of things are just some of the hidden aspects of this bailout that make it out to the public. And by public I mean people like this site that go looking for it.

    It will be years down the road when we suss out ALL the minutiae hidden in these bailouts during covid-19. How can we make Kentuckians vote him out? Will they read this and understand it? Or just vote against their best interests as current republican voters really like to do.

    The information that funnels out of this website is so informative and I’m so thankful for it. It makes me sleepless some nights due to my anger after reading some if not most of this site. I have saved so many books that have been recommended in the comments section to read in the near future. Realistic books about the economy and politics and how ALL of what we’re living in NOW started about 40 years ago. With all that said…what are we supposed to do about it?

    Voting doesn’t seem to work. The Supreme Court is failing. Gerrymandering looks like it’s here to stay. So, if the system which is in place to get the changes needed is totally rigged to prevent said changes, i.e. climate, balancing the economics of the country, money in politics, what do we do?

    The only thing I see is a complete unionization of workers in nearly every field of business with its main objective being a massive strike. No one goes to work, especially when/if covid-19 goes away. The people, the 99% walk off the job. No bills paid, no mortgage, no debt payment of any kind paid until drastic policy changes are passed probably including complete debt erasure.

      1. orlbucfan

        No, he won’t. Thank the Fates, the US House changed hands. This horror show Proposal will be defeated there. Pelosi is already sending signals.

        1. CarlH

          The good cop always works in tandem with the bad cop in the good cop/bad cop routine. I’m starting to wonder which cop Pelosi is though.

          1. John Wright

            Remember the story about Pelosi’s actions during the TPP trade agreement?

            It was reported that Pelosi was working behind the scenes to get enough votes for it to pass without her vote.

            Then she could publicly vote against the TPP to mollify the voters in her district.

            One can remember the clarifying Hillary Clinton remark “You need both a public and a private position,” apparently told to the National Multi-Family Housing Council in private remarks in 2013. (https://www.vox.com/2016/10/7/13207286/clinton-speech-transcripts-wikileaks-email).

            One can wonder what Pelosi’s private position is on this bill.

    1. Felix_47

      Campaign finance reform. Short campaigns financed entirely by government. You could consider elements ofa lottery as well for entry issues. Longer terms might help. The legislators basically spend their time looking for money and it is a lot of money. And after a few drinks the legislators will tell you exactly that. No one can be a stupid as they appear and their universal excuse is they needed the money. They sell their souls for money. And they don’t require much. A million in the right place could make you billions. If Bill Gates wanted to make a difference in the world he would do better paying off campaigns to get campaign reform ultimately passed.

  3. Henry Moon Pie

    “clear businesses of legal responsibility from employees who contract the coronavirus on the job”

    When I saw the headline, I wondered about why McConnell would get so exercised over liability to employees. After all, workmen’s comp takes care of that and at ridiculously low rates, even for death benefits. Now it’s clear that the concern is over employees who bring the virus from work to home and infect family members who suffer serious consequences. Those persons would not be precluded from filing a suit because of workmen’s comp.


    And aren’t they going to try eliminating liability to customers? That’s the block in re-opening for some because of insurance company concerns.

    If they do that, then they need to put a big BUYER BEWARE sign on the door of every bar and restaurant. And since right-wingers love to picket certain locations with shocking photos, let’s include a picture of someone on a ventilator in the warning sign.

    1. Bsoder

      McConnell, is a flat out evil guy, and unlike trump not delusional (doesn’t excuse a thing), but lately he seems getting desperate. Which makes me wonder, what does he know that I don’t? It’s just an intuition with me but but I think the Republicans have not secured an existential threat to continue to govern. Meaning, McConnell’s Policy toward state and local governments is going to do him and his republicans in. Will life be better with the DNC? Doesn’t appear to be so, but I’d rather bring the hammer down on Dems. They’ll break with less effort. A thought.

      1. lordkoos

        His desperation might be due to the fact that Amy McGrath has tied with him in the polls, as well as overtaking him in fundraising.

    2. Redlife2017

      Yes I noted to my partner that I will not go to any sit-down restaurants, cafes, etc. if I ever get to visit the States (and my family) ever again. Why would I chance it if I know the people working will definately not be given much protection and therefore, like good surfs, will be there with illness?

      This and the weirdly trying to force the meatpacking plants to stay open (I guess we can order the virus not to infect meatpackers now??) makes me want to stay away from the US for a long while. A third world reservoir of illness.

    3. L

      My libertarian friends would just argue that this is how it should be. Everything is buyer beware then we all start lawyering up and making contracts with every restaurant and store, and I guess waiter. Of course then everyone will be to … scared to go outside and the economy will grind to a halt anyway. What’s next, compulsory dining out?

      1. Bob Domin

        My libertarian friends, well I get by with little or no help from my libertarian friends.

    4. David R Smith

      Regarding both employees and customers, the issue seems to be whether or not the company was in compliance with the county and/or state health protocols. The company has a greater responsibility to its employees, because they can’t leave an environment they’re uncomfortable in without consequences, like a customer can.

  4. wellclosed

    Visibility of TheHand has always depended on the status of the observer.
    MAGA hats (red & blue) want to bolt the doors, pour in a little petrol, and if anything happens, … thoughts and prayers all-round.
    -We got our pandemic
    -We want our Triangle Shirtwaist Tragedy

    1. cnchal

      Better dust than a drop of oil. Dust is detrimental to the machinery, eventually grinding it to a halt, every beasring destroyed.

      Hero is a euphemism for hostage, as someone on Twitter said yesterday, and politicians want to make it official. If they had any integity it would be called “The Billionaire’s Boot Stamping On A Peasant’s Face Forever Act”

  5. a different chris

    I always like legal terms. /s

    Why say what you mean when you can build a 3 figure/hr wall between yourself and us plebes? “Negligence” — this sounds like “Active Malevolence” to me.

  6. The Rev Kev

    I am thinking about this in terms of healthcare workers and how this may play out. I foresee three levels.

    The first level is where say a nurse dies and this newly-suggested legislation says that the hospital is not required to make her safe at work and is therefore not responsible.

    The second level is where the hospital has PPE gear but refuses to equip their people with it. Perhaps they are “saving it for later” or they want to sell what they have for a profit. Either way, they get their get-out-of-jail card with this legislation.

    The third level is where a hospital orders their workers not to wear PPE gear and penalizes those that do. If their people get sick, then under this legislation the hospital may have their out.

    I am not sure how to frame this suggested legislation if it goes through but in this way – a work contract is not a suicide note!

  7. Pat

    I thought when I saw a document to a former Senator now part time lobbyist outlining a clients desire which absolved them from both protecting their employees AND from actually removing asbestos when contracted to remove asbestos with no excuse necessary I had hit the nadir of government protection requests. (It essentially happened.)

    This surpasses that both in the evil of the desire and the evil of granting it.

  8. Trustee

    Mitch wants to protect employers. Trump says the whole problem is China’s fault.

    Now they are teaming up to protect Smithfield, a Chinese company, for failing to protect its American workforce. At least they are not claiming to do it for workers.

  9. voteforno6

    They seem determined to repeat the mistakes of the 1930s. Take away all protections for the workers? We’ll see how much they enjoy rolling wildcat strikes.

  10. Rory

    Where does workers’ compensation fit in the picture? In many, if not most, states employees who are injured or get sick on the job have no right to sue the employer, unless the employer was grossly negligent. They must pursue their claims for workers compensation benefits as their only legal remedy against their employers. Unless the employers are dodging workers compensation liability by treating their employees as contractors, I don’t see a Federal law immunizing employers from liability to their employees for COVID-related negligence as having any real impact.

    Immunizing businesses from COVID-related liability to their customers, however, is a completely different matter.

  11. Brooklin Bridge

    This is really really sick. My sense of reality is starting to fade in and out as these people whip off one depravity after another, with each one reaching hitherto unimaginable levels of inhumanity. That man is a sicko, a real –lamp shade made out of human skin– level sicko. His “red line.”

    And I suppose he’s doing this as a favor just to make Dems look good by comparison (though they will vote for it anyway).

  12. David R Smith

    This sounds definitely out of bounds, as it doesn’t seem to require companies to put county or state health protocols into place. But there’s a Democratic bill that would provide worker compensation payments to any employee who became ill with the virus, and if an employer challenged it, to win it would be their burden to show that the illness was contracted offsite.

  13. Stephen V.

    I was made aware by a local grass-fed beef producer that there might just be a connection between Tysons full page ad earlier this week and McConnell’s rollback proposal. Justin sayin’….

    1. Shonde

      I have to ask, what might that connection be? Should I finally become a vegetarian? Please tell us more.

  14. Shiloh1

    I thought that the 2005 Junior Senator From Illinois only voted “present” or was absent.

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