Illinois employers losing hope state legislature will tackle COVID-19 liability issues

Illinois business organizations are hoping federal lawmakers can limit potential COVID-19 legal liabilities that state lawmakers haven’t tackled.

There have been more than 4,560 complaints filed across the country over COVID-19-related issues, according to a COVID-19 Complaint Tracker from the firm Hunton Andrews Kurth. While cases tracked include legal challenges against stay-at-home orders, the most common complaints in Illinois involved insurance.

Hunton Andrews Kurth also tracked cases against employers including over a lack of safety equipment, COVID-19 exposure and other complaints.

The firm Fisher Phillips has a litigation tracker that shows Illinois is behind only Ohio, Texas, New York, Florida, New Jersey, and California. Illinois’ most common case type is retaliation/whistleblower cases.

Illinois Manufacturers’ Association President Mark Denzler said one review showed Illinois’ caseload is in the top six or seven of all states.

“It’s the reason that the National Association of Manufacturers and the IMA are working at the federal level to try to get some common sense liability protections, particularly for those manufacturing companies that have stepped up to make the [personal protective equipment] and to provide their employees with the necessary safety equipment,” Denzler said.

NFIB Illinois State Director Mark Grant said independent Illinois businesses are looking past the statehouse to Washington D.C. for liability protections

“The liability issue isn’t going to get solved in this Legislature, not here in Illinois unfortunately,” Grant said. “But we’ve had some good conversations in the last week with some of our congressional representatives.”

Congress has yet to pass another COVID-19 relief measure.

The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association said there has not been a wave of lawsuits. The association also said giving liability protection to businesses would put workers and consumers at risk.

“An analysis of legal filings done by the American Association for Justice (AAJ) shows there has been no wave of COVID-19 litigation, undermining demands from lawmakers that corporations get legal immunity,” the group said in a newsletter earlier this month.

But, Denzler said the lawsuits Illinois employers are seeing range on a variety of issues from masks, insurance, contract disputes and more. Lax protections for employers push up costs, Denzler said.

“It makes it a little bit more difficult to do business here,” Denzler said. “Higher costs, additional litigation, that you would see in the state of Illinois that employers in other states would not face.”

Grant said on top of employers having to comply with COVID-19 mitigations, they also face unknown liability issues.

“Some of these small businesses, especially now, are one lawsuit away from being put out of business and unfortunately I think we’re probably going to see that here in the future,” Grant said.

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