By Eddie E. Farah
Here’s a piece of sound legal advice from someone who has dedicated his life to representing injured Floridians: When Big Business says they want to help protect the little guy, you can bet the winners will actually be the businesses themselves.
That’s why citizens should scrutinize questionable legislation pushed by corporate special interests at the national and state levels. The shameless goal of this legislation: shield businesses from being held responsible and accountable by those who suffer from the businesses’ own actions or inactions.
The advocates for this protectionist legislation tell us it’s good for consumers and employees amid the COVID-19 pandemic, because it will help small businesses stay open, continue to provide essential goods and services, and keep paying their workers. It all sounds good – but the true motivation is to spare businesses from the consequences of their own misdeeds. The losers: hard-working men and women possibly harmed by those flawed actions or inactions.
A recent Bloomberg news article noted that even though Congress failed to link a liability shield to the latest round of stimulus relief, they may try it again. And, at least 10 states have created such legal shields for businesses and individuals. These states include Georgia, and special interest groups are pushing for a similar shield in Florida’s upcoming legislative session.
Supporters of the liability shield are trying to scare policymakers with overblown fears of consumers just waiting to sue someone – anyone – to compensate them for the inconvenience of COVID restrictions.
As the head of the Florida Justice Association put it, this is “a solution in search of a problem.” Businesses that comply with government guidelines and take appropriate steps to protect their workers and customers and limit the spread of the virus have no need to worry. But businesses that ignore proper safety measures and knowingly put their employees and consumers at risk do have cause for concern – as well they should.
Through the end of 2020, a national law firm had identified 1,326 COVID-related employment lawsuits across the country. This translated to about 75 lawsuits per 1 million residents nationwide – but in Florida, the figure was just over 5 suits per million residents and in Georgia it was less than 2 per million. And remember the suggestion that it’s small businesses that would be spared from a rash of litigation by a liability shield? About two-thirds of the lawsuits have been filed against businesses with more than 50 employees – and a quarter of those involve huge corporations with 10,000 or more workers.
A founding principle of our republic is for citizens to have the right to hold individuals and entities that do them harm responsible, most often by filing suit. Business interests hate to be sued — even when they have caused harm — so they deflect attention by accusing injured parties and their attorneys of being greedy. Now they want lawmakers to let them hide behind a legal shield — so they won’t have to answer for their mistakes.
Blocking citizens from seeking legal redress and remedies over the harm caused by others erodes our system of justice. A bad idea posing as a good new law actually victimizes innocent people with the equivalent of being locked out of the courthouse. Our lawmakers should oppose, not support, such shameless attempts to put profits ahead of people.
Eddie E. Farah, J.D., is the founder and managing partner of Farah & Farah, a leading personal injury law firm that was founded in Florida in 1979. Over the last 40 years, Farah & Farah has expanded to 16 offices spanning Florida and Georgia with more than 300 attorneys and employees. Connect with Eddie E. Farah via Twitter.