Are you confused about why the United States Senate keeps blocking the relief package our country so desperately needs to survive the pandemic? Buried in the Associated Press article “McConnell torpedoes bipartisan COVID-19 aid deal,” published on Page A4 of Friday’s Press Herald, is the answer. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insists that any aid package must include sweeping liability immunity for corporations who put profits over safety. In doing so, he shows he cares more about his corporate backers than he does about us, our safety and our health.

The “lawsuit pandemic” that McConnell cites is a myth, a lie, a hoax. It doesn’t exist. Readers of this page may recall the Maine Voices column I penned back in May that exposed the hoax. Since then, how many COVID-related lawsuits have you read about? Almost none. There was no lawsuit pandemic then, and there is none today. This is because, to win a negligence lawsuit, lawyers like me have to prove that whoever we are suing acted unreasonably. What we have seen is that, overwhelmingly, responsible businesses throughout Maine have adopted and are adhering to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which protect their employees, customers, families and communities. That is why my firm, and lawyers across Maine, have had little cause for COVID-related lawsuits.

It is true that there are outliers. One well-publicized COVID outbreak here in our state, said to have originated at a Millinocket wedding venue last summer, may result in legal liability. (My law partner at Berman & Simmons, Timothy Kenlan, represents several of the parties affected by the outbreak.) If it does, it will be as a result of conduct that ignored both CDC guidelines and common sense – the very definition of unreasonable conduct that creates liability. Thankfully, such conduct is exceedingly rare, which means that lawsuits related to the pandemic are equally rare, here in Maine and nationally.

Despite this, Majority Leader McConnell has blocked every single COVID relief package and will allow none to pass unless it includes provisions to strip away legal protections for all Americans. This is dangerous, not only because the country needs an aid package to see us through this pandemic, but also because it is critical to our economy that we maintain legal protections.

If you run a business, the last thing you want is immunity for your competitors who ignore safety rules and needlessly endanger their employees and customers. Those of us who shop, get takeout or eat in at restaurants in our community do so because we trust that business owners are being safe. A big part of that trust comes from knowing that, if a business ignores basic safety rules and causes injury or death, the business can be held responsible. That responsibility is what Majority Leader McConnell wants to end. McConnell wants blanket immunity for those who put their profits ahead of our safety, and will let no COVID aid package pass without it.

So when you read your next headline about gridlock in Washington over COVID relief, I hope this helps you understand why it continues.


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