At long last, Congress, it seems, will pass the long fought over COVID-19 relief package. I am pleased to report that after months of negotiation, the proposed bill does not include any corporate immunity protections, despite significant pressure from Republican leaders, and intense lobbying by the United States Chamber of Commerce and countless other pro-business lobbies.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel has long supported the concept of broad-ranging corporate immunity, stripping plaintiffs’ rights to pursue compensation for injuries suffered due to corporate negligence or other bad conduct. McConnell decided long ago that Covid-19 provided him the perfect opportunity to achieve this long-sought goal.
Until recently, leader McConnell never engaged in serious conversations about the American people’s desperate needs as it relates to this deadly pandemic, medical, economic, or otherwise. Instead, since spring, he has threatened to withhold further relief until Congress granted the broad-based corporate immunity he sought on behalf of his well-oiled corporate donors.
Every proposal put forth by the Republican leadership over the summer and fall contained multiple provisions that deprived citizens of their 7th Amendment rights under the United States Constitution and left the neediest of our citizens more vulnerable to contracting the dreaded disease. I have consistently and loudly railed against tort reform in many previous articles. But the tort reform proposals advanced during the Covid-19 pandemic are especially draconian, and their effect would have been much broader. Furthermore, it would have impacted a wide range of citizen rights against corporate wrongdoers.
Many wondered why the Democratic minority was unwilling to accept a smaller package during these lengthy negotiations. At least America would have something rather than nothing, was the rallying cry for a small package compromise. But America did not understand, and no one, including the Democrats, explained what exactly our citizens would be giving up for the compromised ‘smaller package.’
The package consistently presented by McConnell and the Republican leadership would have eliminated pending and future medical and hospital neglect cases for any injury, even if only remotely related to the pandemic. It would have eliminated any nursing home-related injury or illness caused by the negligence of a nursing home or its staff, and/or the claims of workers who suffer work-related illness or injury.
The proposed bills would have imposed a heightened standard of gross negligence when filing a claim during the crisis. They would have imposed it whether or not the illness or injury was even marginally related to Covid-19. It would bar OSHA from enforcing workplace protections and even limited the incoming Biden Administration from relaxing the imposed limitations. Furthermore, it would have prevented workers from filing actions based on discrimination and other violations of federal civil rights.
Under the 7th Amendment, consumers and workers, citizens all, have a constitutional right to file and pursue litigation related to critical issues of health and safety in America. Lawsuits are a citizen’s most vital tool in uncovering unsafe and irresponsible corporate behavior. Without the ability to sue, or with severe restrictions placed upon that ability, corporate wrongdoers could easily cut corners and curb expensive safety measures to save costs at the expense of public health.
While our citizens suffered severe economic hardship during these negotiations, the Democrats unwillingness to concede these liability issues should be applauded and appreciated by each and every United States citizen. In these negotiations, it is clear to this writer that the Democratic Party sought to protect our country’s citizen interests, while the Republican Party sought to protect our country’s corporate interests.
Strict constitutionalists must also be applauded. Those Republicans who, for instance, believe the 2nd Amendment is sacrosanct often also believe the 7th Amendment is sacrosanct as well. To those Republicans, I applaud your refusal to be hypocrites in the face of intense pressure from your Republican leadership. We cannot cherry-pick those constitutional provisions that suit a particular political interest—we must be consistent in our application of constitutional principles.
This writer will continue to stand with those who put workers, patients, nursing home residents, visitors, store patrons, product users, and other consumer interests first. I will continue to voice my opposition to Senator McConnell’s demands for corporate immunity at the expense of citizen safety.
This compromised bill provides only a temporary victory. Inevitably those who seek to limit our civil rights will not cease or desist in their attempt to sacrifice public safety on the altar of corporate immunity and profit. Hopefully, our newly elected president and Congress will protect our citizens from McConnell’s brand of corporate welfare against the interests of our neediest citizens, the poor, the seriously injured, and the disabled. Rest assured, I will be here to write about it.
Experienced attorney, lawsuit funding expert, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series. The series features super-trial lawyer Zachary Blake handling "ripped from the headlines" legal and political issues of the day. The series currently consists of Betrayal of Faith, Betrayal of Justice, Betrayal in Blue, Betrayal in Black, and Betrayal High, with a sixth Zachary Blake novel due out later this year. To learn more about these topical social justice legal thrillers. please visit markmbello.com. Mark is a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.