Two months ago, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of six statewide business organizations, provided testimony to the Ohio House’s 2020 Economic Recovery Task Force. In our remarks, we highlighted the importance of providing Ohio businesses with legal protections from coronavirus exposure lawsuits and stated how employers need legislative action “quickly and decisively or any other efforts may be in vain.”
Then Senate President Larry Obhof and Speaker of the House Larry Householder voiced their intent to make coronavirus immunity a short term priority, and ultimately each chamber passed legislation granting businesses legal protections for coronavirus lawsuits.
Unfortunately for businesses in the Buckeye State, no agreement on a path forward could be reached between the two legislative chambers before the House’s final session until September. This means employers will likely have to go without any coronavirus legal protections despite the fact the risk of spreading the coronavirus remains no matter what precautions are taken.
Failing to enact legal protections from coronavirus lawsuits also jeopardizes a quick economic recovery since businesses fearful of costly litigation will continue to keep in place restrictive operating limits that will lead to reduced revenues and slower re-hiring of employees. Likewise, businesses will now have targets placed on their back by trial attorneys who will seek to hold them accountable for a risk they cannot eliminate and where no standard of care has been established.
With no standard of care in place for how businesses should operate during the coronavirus pandemic, judges are free to create their own standard. This judicial standard could hold employers liable unless they complied with every order, guideline, recommendation, or suggestion from any governmental body including the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, the Ohio Department of Health and local health departments.
Small businesses without a team of lawyers or dedicated compliance personnel will be hit the hardest by this legislative inaction because small business owners will be forced to monitor every new action by a myriad of governmental agencies and determine whether their business is required to comply with the action. This will take time away from their efforts to rebuild their business following the shutdown and provide incentives for them to remain closed or operating with severe restrictions in place.
It is disappointing that, despite the importance of this issue to Ohio’s economic recovery following the pandemic, it appears businesses that are ready to do their part to help return our state to prosperity will be left without coronavirus legal protections when they need it most.