September 14, 2020

Senate Rejects COVID Relief Package That Includes Business Liability Protections

On September 10, Democrats in the U.S. Senate blocked a procedural vote on a coronavirus relief bill offered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), leaving prospects for the next round of relief aid in doubt. The bill included:

  • A $300/week add-on for unemployment insurance, made available through December 27;
  • A second round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP);
  • Postal Service assistance;
  • Short-term assistance for child care providers;
  • A new temporary credit for educational scholarships;
  • Pandemic preparation and strategic stockpiles;
  • An increase in the above-the-line deduction for charitable contributions;
  • Additional emergency appropriations for the coronavirus health response; and
  • Liability protections from lawsuits related to the virus.

It did not include several provisions that Democrats favor, including comprehensive state and local aid and another round of stimulus checks for individuals. Regarding business liability, the legislation would have:

  • Included liability limitations for COVID-related personal injury claims against businesses, COVID-related medical malpractice claims, and protections from liability under labor and employment laws for businesses that help fight COVID; and
  • Created federal causes of action for personal injury and medical malpractice laws and preempted conflicting state laws.

The bill’s protections would apply to hospitals, healthcare workers, small and large businesses, schools, colleges and universities, religious, philanthropic, and other nonprofit institutions, and local government agencies.

A path forward on another coronavirus spending bill is not clear, especially since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have agreed in principle to pass a “clean” continuing resolution (CR) at the end of September to keep the government funded after the end of the fiscal year. A “clean” CR means that the two sides have agreed not to pursue “poison pill” issues that could hamper the measure’s enactment, including additional pandemic relief aid.