Some small businesses worried about COVID-19 lawsuits, despite statewide protections expected
By Matt Zdun
KILLEEN, Texas (KWTX) – Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott in his State of the State address said he wanted to shield Texas businesses that have remained open during the pandemic and followed state COVID-19 protocols from customer and employee lawsuits.
He made that one of his five emergency priorities this legislative session, and several groups that represent small businesses applauded the decision.
“If you have a business like a restaurant that has put forth a good faith, reasonable effort to comply with those safety guidelines, let’s protect them from having to defend themselves against a frivolous lawsuit,” said Kelsey Erickson Streufert, the vice president of government relations and advocacy at the Texas Restaurant Association.
So far, no state lawmaker has filed a bill with these protections, but state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, is expected to file one soon, said Streufert.
“Various lawyers and experts and stakeholders have been working on the language for months,” she said.
However, even with the protections, Killeen restaurant owner Josie McKinney says small businesses across the state are still in a “scary place.”
“To have somebody go and test positive for COVID and then publicly announce, ‘The only place I’ve been in weeks is this place’ is very harmful to a business owner,” McKinney said.
She said that even with liability protections, it could still be the customer’s word versus hers.
“Unless you can go back and document every minute of every day that a customer’s in the building, it’s going to be really hard to say, ‘Were they following the right practices?’ if the customer says they weren’t,” McKinney said.
She also said that, even if it is harder to sue small businesses, these businesses could still face harmful damage to their reputations.
The liability protections for businesses are expected only to apply to those businesses that have complied with state and local COVID-19 safety protocols.
They are also expected to extend to religious organizations, nonprofits and healthcare organizations.
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