Small businesses have faced unprecedented challenges from the coronavirus. As the economic lockdowns continued throughout 2020, businesses across the country anxiously waited to reopen as they watched their livelihoods slip away.
Thousands could not endure these shutdowns and had to close their doors permanently. According to one analysis, more than half of businesses that closed during the pandemic won’t reopen. But challenges remain for the businesses that survived to see a new year. On top of complying with ever-changing public health guidelines, capacity limits, and other safety protocols, businesses also have to worry about coronavirus-related litigation—or getting sued if someone catches COVID-19 in their establishment. This threat is enough for some businesses to delay reopening all together.
Thankfully, a Network of state policy organizations stepped in and advised policymakers to pass liability protections for businesses as they reopen and rebuild after the pandemic. As long as businesses are taking appropriate steps to keep their employees and customers safe, this Network argued, they shouldn’t have to worry about opportunistic and expensive coronavirus lawsuits.
The Alabama Policy Institute, Alaska Policy Forum, Beacon Center, Kansas Policy Institute, Platte Institute, Palmetto Promise Institute, and The Buckeye Institute in particular played a crucial role in their states to encourage policymakers to adopt this important policy.
In May 2020, the Alabama Policy Institute released its RESTORE Alabama plan, a blueprint to get Alabama back on track after the pandemic. In that plan, API recommended policymakers adopt a bill that would protect businesses, churches, nonprofits, and others from frivolous and costly lawsuits related to the coronavirus. Without this legislation, API argued there would be a wave of lawsuits that would prevent Alabama’s economy from getting back on its feet.
Throughout Alabama’s 2021 legislative session, the Alabama Policy Institute continued to urge state lawmakers to enact coronavirus-related liability protections for businesses, churches, and other organizations. On February 12, 2021, the Alabama Legislature took API’s advice. Lawmakers passed—and the governor signed—a bill that protects businesses from trivial lawsuits. API applauded the state legislature for taking this important step. Thanks to Alabama Policy, 396,000 small businesses in Alabama can reopen and get back to serving their communities without the fear of being sued.
In January 2021, the Alaska Policy Forum released a policy brief that argued coronavirus business liability protection is a key step in restarting Alaska’s economy. APF also released a video that featured Alaska businesses stressing the need for coronavirus liability protection. In addition, the organization published op-eds and held a webinar on the importance of liability protections that featured experts from the Beacon Center and The Buckeye Institute.
Alaska Policy Forum was the leading voice advocating for liability protections in the state. Their efforts paid off—thanks to APF, 73,000 Alaska businesses are now protected from unnecessary litigation regarding the coronavirus.
In June 2020, thanks to the efforts of the Kansas Policy Institute, Kansas passed a law that protects businesses from coronavirus-related claims if that business was complying with public health directives. This law is helping the state’s 254,000 small businesses get back on their feet after the pandemic.
The Platte Institute worked behind the scenes to support liability protections in Nebraska. Platte held meetings with lawmakers as they drafted legislation to protect businesses from frivolous coronavirus lawsuits. Platte also worked with the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and other coalition partners to encourage policymakers to adopt the legislation.
The initial hearing on the bill went well, and it was voted out of committee with no opposing votes. The first-floor vote by the entire Legislature was the most decisive and eventually received unanimous support. The Nebraska governor signed the legislation into law on May 25, 2021, exempting businesses in the state from unnecessary coronavirus litigation, and giving Nebraska’s 179,000 small businesses peace of mind as they reopen.
In May 2020, The Buckeye Institute released a policy memo that called on policymakers to provide businesses and workers with immunity from COVID-19 related lawsuits as long as they are taking reasonable steps to keep Ohioans healthy and safe. On September 14, 2020, the Ohio Governor signed legislation that provides businesses, schools, and frontline workers with critical liability protections from coronavirus lawsuits. Thanks to Buckeye’s efforts, 950,000 small businesses in the states could reopen without the fear of needless coronavirus lawsuits.
The Palmetto Promise Institute has been working throughout the pandemic to raise awareness on the need for protection for innocent businesses. In June 2021, the South Carolina Governor signed a law that exempts South Carolina businesses from predatory COVID-19-related lawsuits. In response to the passage of this law, Palmetto Promise observed: “We are encouraged by this victory for common sense in South Carolina, and the many Mom and Pop businesses it protects.”
Without the Palmetto Promise Institute, 432,000 small businesses in the state would still be worrying about being held liable for coronavirus-related lawsuits.
In the summer of 2020, the Beacon Center of Tennessee reiterated how important coronavirus liability reform is to economic recovery. Tennessee leaders took Beacon’s recommendation in August, passing coronavirus protections and helping the state’s 620,000 small businesses reopen.
State Policy Network spurred these organizations to take on this issue. Through an SPN Working Group, state think tanks across the country came together to discuss strategies on how to pass liability reform. All seven organizations were instrumental in shaping this policy in their state. Thanks to their efforts, more than two million small businesses were able to reopen safely without the threat of needless litigation.