Legislature must pass COVID-19 liability protections
Never before have the lives of Oregonians been so deeply impacted by a situation outside of their control as they have been throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. And never before have the daily operations of businesses, schools, nonprofits and other entities been so thoroughly regulated by the state and local governments. But just as businesses have adjusted their daily operations to protect their employees and their customers, we must protect them from those who would unfairly take advantage of a situation out of their control, by ensuring that the Legislature passes COVID-19 liability protection during the Aug. 10 special session.
Since March, businesses have faced changing requirements and regulations for how they must operate. Many of these state-issued guidelines have changed daily, contradicted local or federal guidelines and have been intentionally vague, opening businesses up to crippling and costly litigation through no fault of their own.
As the state-issued guidelines have changed, businesses have risen to the occasion. They have adapted how they do business, how they interact with their customers and how they deliver services and products to their end-users. They have prioritized the health and safety of their employees by implementing work-from-home and social distancing policies. They have ensured that their employees comply with the state-issued mask mandate. Yet every action they take to follow the state's requirements is an opening for an opportunistic attorney to bring a lawsuit against them.
Businesses that have taken every step necessary to comply with the state's changing operational guidelines, and even gone above and beyond these requirements, should be protected from unfair and costly lawsuits. A coalition of more than 50 business associations, schools, local governments and nonprofits have asked the Legislature for this peace of mind and have received bipartisan support from legislators and Oregonians across the state. They have not asked for protection for those who fail to comply with the state's guidelines. They have simply asked for protection for those who are working so hard to protect us.
Liability protection would allow employers of every size and every industry to confidently reopen their doors, putting people safely back to work. It would incentivize businesses to make every effort to comply with the state's guidelines, since only those who follow all the rules would receive the protection. And it would ensure that the smallest and most vulnerable businesses — the ones that operate on the smallest margins and have been the most devastated by this pandemic — are not forced to defend themselves from devastating and expensive lawsuits when they have done nothing wrong.
As we begin to slowly reopen Oregon, we must ensure that our focus is on prioritizing the health and safety of workers, customers and our communities, not on the fear of opportunistic lawsuits seeking to take advantage of this crisis. The Legislature must pass limited COVID-19 liability protection when it meets next week. Oregon's employers and workers cannot wait any longer.
Laura Edmonds is CEO of the North Clackamas Chamber of Commerce.
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