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Protection from COVID-19 lawsuits in the works for Illinois businesses

By ELYSE KELLY, The Center Square contributor

Protection from COVID-19 related lawsuits may be on the way for Illinois businesses through House Bill 3003.

Known as the COVID-19 Liability Act, the legislation was filed in the House of Representatives on Feb. 18. If passed, the bill would offer protection to businesses from people claiming they were infected at a business and therefore the business is liable for medical costs, pain and suffering or more.

Clark Kaericher, vice president of Government Affairs at the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, says so far, there have been two crises proceeding from the coronavirus: a public health crisis and an economic crisis.

“We are very fearful though that a third crisis is coming, and that is one of legal liability for businesses already staggered by this economic crisis,” Kaericher said.

An estimated 365 lawsuits related to COVID-19 have been filed in Illinois since the pandemic started, which is raising legal questions concerning employment laws and torts among others, according to an article in Lexology.

Kaericher said businesses are barely staying afloat and Illinois can’t afford to lose any more.

“The last thing they can afford right now is a series of costly lawsuits, that even if they were to prevail, the attorney fees alone would be enough to push them over the edge into insolvency,” he said.

It’s no secret that Illinois’ legal climate is challenging to businesses, says Kaericher,

“We have the unfortunate distinction of being named judicial hellholes by several ratings groups and we don’t need, we don’t need another crisis to go along with the asbestos, tort reform and now the Bimbo legal crisis,” Kaericher said.

Hoping to provide them some protection, lawmakers wrote the COVID-19 Liability Act. The bill is sponsored by Illinois state Reps. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield; Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook; and Mike Murphy, R-Springfield, but has yet to move forward.

The bill solidifies language that puts the onus on plaintiffs to prove through clear and convincing evidence a business was at fault, according to the Illinois General Assembly’s website.

“The person would then have to prove that the business was not following best practices, and then the failure to do so resulted in them contracting the virus,” Kaericher said.

This is necessary because businesses are not able to prove that plaintiffs caught it elsewhere, he said.

“But what you can prove, and what we think should be the standard, was businesses were listening to the experts, they were being responsible citizens and they were doing their best to follow all public health guidelines,” Kaericher said.

Kaericher emphasizes they are not trying to give protection to those who have flouted rules, but want to offer a shield to those who have followed the rules from the beginning.

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