The Wrong Way to Protect Small Business


US Senate is considering legislation designed to immunize small businesses from lawsuits brought by customers alleging to have been infected with COVID-19 while on the premises. The legislation seeks to subsidize reopening small businesses by reducing their vulnerability to liability. I argue that the legislation produces worse public health outcomes than existing liability regimes, obliterates claims to redress supported by corrective justice, and unfairly burdens victims by forcing them to become de facto insurers of their injurers. In the US, where health insurance is inextricably linked with employment, and during the pandemic with the consequent loss of employment, the legislation is cruel in addition to being ineffective, unjust, unfair and inappropriate. Since I first uploaded this manuscript to Philpapers, Senate Republicans have in fact introduced specific legislation that is marginally different than the one I discuss in the manuscript. Instead of offering blanket immunity, the current Republican proposal offers a series of substantial barriers both to filing lawsuits and to securing a successful verdict at trial. I discuss these as an addendum to the main paper. In short, though the changes impact some features of my argument, they do not alter any of the conclusions. The current proposal produces worse public health outcomes than would existing tort regime; it leaves the vast majority of those with legitimate claims to repair in corrective justice without a remedy, when providing the opportunity to secure a remedy for wrongs is in large measure, the essential nature of tort liability. Worse still, it continues to render victims the de facto insurers of those who have wronged them; it imposes the burden of spreading risks on victims who are considerably less efficient risk spreaders than are businesses and hospitals; it constitutes an inappropriate response to the challenge it seeks to address, i.e. subsidizing various sectors of the economy by reducing their overall costs; and given the fact that in the US health insurance is too closely linked to employment, it shifts the costs of the pandemic to those who are most at risk of losing their health insurance, rendering the proposal cruel in addition to inefficient, unjust, unfair and inappropriate. For those interested, I am considering a short op-ed piece assessing the particular legislative proposal. If I follow through I will let the readership know where that can be found



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Jules Coleman
The Rockefeller University (Alumnus)

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