WASHINGTON — A coalition of over 275 industry trade groups is urging congressional leaders to provide "limited and rational safe harbors" for businesses to protect them from coronavirus-related lawsuits.
In a letter sent May 3 to Congress, the associations — including the Auto Care Association, Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, National Association of Manufacturers and Missouri Tire Industry Association — said companies that have remained operational during the economic and public health crisis are at risk of becoming the targets of lawsuits related to the pandemic that could impede their recovery.
"Companies doing their best to control the spread of this disease with the limited guidance available deserve legal protection," the groups said in the letter. "Congress should not allow good actors to be held liable for events beyond their control."
The auto sector has stepped up to supply products critical to help those on the front lines and to slow the virus' spread, but the effort to bring employees back into factories comes with the risk of those workers becoming infected with COVID-19.
The United Auto Workers union reported several deaths related to the coronavirus among workers at plants operated by Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automotive. Other auto makers and suppliers also have confirmed some employees have died from COVID-19.
It's unclear how many auto company employees have been infected with the virus.
The associations are asking Congress to expand the scope of certain provisions under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act, which provides liability immunity for activities related to the use of regulated medical products during a public health emergency. That includes the production of personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 crisis as companies that don't normally make those products step in to provide masks and ventilators.
In addition, the groups are recommending Congress temporarily suspend lawsuits that "threaten to shut down vital industries."
The groups, which represent most major manufacturing sectors, said they were not asking for Congress to protect companies from all liability, however.
"By providing limited and rational safe harbors for good actors, Congress can help ensure that the critical needs of the American people are met during this time of crisis and enable the continued operation of critical infrastructure."
The groups' letter concludes by stating: "We look forward to working with members of Congress to put in place fair, sensible rules that protect businesses that have worked to keep Americans safe and healthy during our response to this crisis and those that will soon get back to work as our country reopens and moves toward recovery and renewal."