‘Senate Republicans are preparing a major package of COVID-related liability reforms to foster our economic recovery. This package, which Senator Cornyn and I are spearheading, will extend significant new protections to the people who have been on the front lines of the response and those who will be on the front lines of the re-opening.’
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks Tuesday on the Senate floor regarding liability reform:
“Our health care sector continues to battle the coronavirus at every level. Doctors, nurses, hospital workers, researchers, and public health leaders are working constantly to protect Americans and fight this invader.
“Unfortunately, the last two months’ stoppage of much of our national life was never going to permanently extinguish the virus. That task will be ongoing.
“The stated purpose of this effort was to prevent a rapid spike that could have completely overwhelmed the medical capacities of many areas.
“And the patriotic sacrifices of the American people have worked. We have bought our healthcare system that breathing room.
“As we cautiously move forward, major precautions will remain in place. Some routines will not go back to normal for a long time. But as a nation, we will need to regroup and find a more sustainable middle ground between total lockdown and total normalcy.
“While we keep battling the virus through testing, tracing, isolation, treatment, and -- hopefully soon -- a vaccine, we need to smartly and safely begin to re-open our country.
“If Americans want to go back to work and back to school in the fall, we will need to reopen the country.
“No doubt, there will be many discussions here in Congress about more ways we could help make that happen. Already, we’re hearing that House Democrats are cobbling together another big laundry list of pet priorities. Even the media is describing it as a partisan wish list with no chance of becoming law.
“This is exactly the wrong approach.
“It is the wrong approach when a senior House Democrat calls this pandemic, quote, “a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.”
“It is the wrong approach when Vice President Biden calls this tragedy, quote, an “incredible opportunity… to fundamentally transform the country.”
“The American people don’t need a far-left transformation. They just need a path back to the historically prosperous and optimistic moment they had built for themselves until about 12 weeks ago.
“American workers don’t need Washington to inflict some far-left extreme makeover on the country. They need us to get rid of obstacles that might stand in their way.
“One such obstacle is already becoming obvious. A second epidemic of frivolous lawsuits could follow the actual pandemic and crush our recovery before it begins.
“Already, more than two-thirds of independent business owners say they are specifically worried about a legal liability minefield getting in the way of re-opening.
“Already, plaintiff’s lawyers have begun filing hundreds of COVID-related complaints in courts across the country.
“This is exactly the kind of hostile environment that could take our re-opening and recovery from challenging to downright impossible. So the Senate is going to act.
“Senate Republicans are preparing a major package of COVID-related liability reforms to foster our economic recovery.
“This package, which Senator Cornyn and I are spearheading, will extend significant new protections to the people who have been on the front lines of the response and those who will be on the front lines of our re-opening.
“First and foremost, we are going to protect the healthcare workers who have been locked in combat with this mysterious new disease. We are not going to let healthcare heroes emerge from this crisis facing a tidal wave of medical malpractice lawsuits so that trial lawyers can line their pockets.
“We aren’t going to federalize the entirety of medical malpractice law, but we are going to raise the liability threshold for COVID-related malpractice lawsuits. This will give our doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers a lot more security as they clock in every day and risk themselves to care for strangers.
“Second, we’re including new legal protections for the businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies that have kept serving throughout the crisis, and for those that will lead the re-opening.
“We are facing the worst layoffs since the Great Depression and a storm of uncertainty for Main Street businesses. Americans want to get back to work, and we need to do everything in our power to help that happen.
“Also, K-12 schools, colleges, and universities right now are completely uncertain about the fall. If we want schools to reopen this fall, we’ll have to create the conditions to make that possible.
“If we want even an outside shot at the kind of brisk re-hiring that American workers deserve, we have to make sure opportunistic trial lawyers are not lurking on the sidewalk outside every small business in America, waiting to slap them with a lawsuit the instant they turn the lights back on.
“Our legislation is going to create a legal safe harbor for businesses, nonprofits, governments, workers, and schools who are following public health guidelines to the best of their ability.
“To be clear: We are not talking about immunity from lawsuits. There will be accountability for actual gross negligence and intentional misconduct.
“We aren’t going to provide immunity. But we are going to provide some certainty. If we want American workers to clock back in, we need employers to know that if they follow the guidelines, they will not be left to drown in opportunistic litigation.
“We are going to make sure it is the trial lawyers and not struggling job creators that will need to clear a high legal burden.
“In addition, I hope our bill will find ways to expand existing protections for the manufacturers of therapeutics, diagnostics, and potential vaccines -- things we are urging the private sector to produce as fast as possible.
“And I hope we’ll be able to create new protections for other medical equipment manufacturers, as well, like the policies we put in the CARES Act to increase the supply of masks.
“It is all well and good to give rhetorical tributes here on the floor to healthcare professionals, essential workers, key industries, small businesses, charities, and nonprofits. Rhetoric is well and good. Words matter.
“But actions matter more.
“Americans on the front lines do not just need Senators to talk about how important they are. They need action.
“They need us to provide the same kinds of commonsense legal protections that Congress has enacted a number of times previously in difficult or unusual periods.
“American taxpayers deserve these protections, too. The men and women of this country just saw Congress commit historic amounts of their own money to sweeping recovery legislation so that we could help healthcare facilities and small businesses survive this crisis.
“We are not going to stand idly by while a small group of wealthy lawyers vacuum up this relief money and redirect it into their own pockets.
“Strong legal protections are the right move. For doctors, nurses, and hospitals. Schools, universities. For workers who want their jobs back. For small business owners who are struggling to stay open. For nonprofits that have helped the vulnerable.
“And for taxpayers, who want their money to finance a real national rescue and not the biggest trial lawyer bonanza in history.
“Senate Republicans are going to continue to develop this legislation. It’s going to be a red line for us in any future coronavirus legislation. The Administration has already stated its support for action on this issue as well.
“American heroes across our country deserve these basic protections. This Senate majority will make sure they get them.”