INDIANAPOLIS — Business owners across the country are concerned about COVID-19 related lawsuits.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce is lobbying to provide specific immunity for employers.
Michael Ripley is the vice president of healthcare and employment law for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. He said some Hoosier business owners are afraid to open up due to fears of getting sued.
“We’ve got all these problems on top of it, and then we’ve got this liability exposure if we have our employees come in,” explained Ripley as he quoted some of the conversations the chamber has had with employers.
It created a task force on the topic.
“A Civil Justice Committee Task Force who has already met and discussed several issues that we think are pertinent and necessary to assist businesses in Indiana to get through this crisis without too many lawsuits,” said Ripley.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce is expecting the federal government to address these concerns soon. However, in the meantime, Ripley said companies should follow CDC and executive order guidelines to keep people safe.
“We have to make certain that those guidelines are broad enough but yet don’t pigeon hole or impact employers that have smaller and less resources to do what some of the larger employers can do,” said Ripley.
The chamber wants to keep the burden of proof on the employee and guarantee that lawsuits stem from actual damages and not just the risk of damages.
“You’ve got to have some serious injury or death related specific to the coronavirus,” said Ripley.
Stephanie Hahn is an attorney at law who deals with employee rights. She said what the Indiana Chamber is trying to do goes against the United States Judicial system.
“In almost every case, the burden is initially on the plaintiff, the person who brings the lawsuit, and to the extent they bring a frivolous lawsuit, they are going be held accountable to that,” said Hahn. “So, I think that really is a red herring, and the Chamber of Commerce is making a mountain out of a molehill.”
She fears special protections during the pandemic will open up more expanded protections for employers in Indiana.
“Frankly, if the legislature and the governor give them an inch, they are going to take a mile,” said Hahn.
But the Indiana Chamber said these unique times call for specific protections, and you can expect more information on its proposal soon.
“We hope to in the next 30 days to have a very solid policy that we are going to push,” said Ripley.