COVID-19 Reading List

August 28, 2020

Tara S. Morrissey, U.S. Chamber Litigation Center

The threat of liability continues to dominate headlines in COVID-19 news and commentary.  Schools and college football conferences weigh liability risks, while more states move toward liability protections.  As businesses get back on their feet, a recent report shows that the pandemic is disproportionately impacting female small business owners. 

Schools Fear Liability Threat

As schools begin to reopen, questions of liability loom.  In Ohio, the Columbus Dispatch reports that school officials are “navigat[ing] uncharted legal territory,” and they are “urging state and federal lawmakers to provide protections from potential litigation” over COVID-19 liability.  Even unsuccessful lawsuits can be costly for schools, notes one superintendent.  Legislation is pending that would provide liability protection to schools and businesses in Ohio. 

State officials are also discussing potential liability for Pennsylvania schools.  According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Pennsylvania lawmakers have voiced concerns that state-issued school guidance may be treated as a mandate that “could open districts to lawsuits.” 

Liability Risk for College Football

As college football conferences “come to disparate conclusions” about whether to proceed with the fall season, the Washington Post discusses the legal risks of playing this fall:  “[I]f an outbreak on a team leads to an adverse outcome, schools will inevitably find themselves faced with lawsuits.”  In the article, legal experts discuss the various theories of liability and potential defenses. 

More States Consider Liability Protections

While businesses and schools await federal liability protections, state lawmakers continue to consider enacting their own legislation.  The Idaho Statesman reports that the Idaho House and Senate recently passed the Coronavirus Limited Immunity Act this week, which would provide protections to businesses and schools from lawsuits relating to the pandemic.  The legislation was the result of “three unusual days in a special session,” according to Idaho Education News.  The bill heads to the Governor next.

Last week, JD Supra reported that the Tennessee Governor signed the Tennessee COVID-19 Recovery Act into law.   The Act provides protections to “businesses, healthcare providers, schools, non-profits, and other entities and individuals” in actions seeking damages relating to COVID-19.  Tennessee joined a growing number of states (recently summarized by Forbes) that have enacted liability protections.

Female Small Business Owners Face Disproportionate Impact of Pandemic

Fortune explains the findings of a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report about the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on female business owners:  “Women business owners report a more difficult path ahead than their male peers as the economy attempts to recover from the coronavirus crisis over the next year.”  The Chamber’s data reveals that compared with male business owners, female business owners are less likely to expect future revenue growth, and fewer female business owners describe their businesses as in “good” health.