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Gov. Abbott Wants To Protect Businesses From Pandemic-Related Lawsuits

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference where he provided an update to Texas' response to COVID-19, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Austin, Texas.
Eric Gay
Associated Press
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a news conference where he provided an update to Texas' response to COVID-19, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Austin, Texas.

Governor Abbott designated civil liabilities protections as one of five emergency items for lawmakers to prioritize within the first 60 days of the new Legislative Session.

These protections would prevent businesses from being sued in COVID-19-related lawsuits. According to a lawsuit tracker by Hunton Andrews Kurth law firm, there have been 621 COVID-19 related complaints filed in Texas since March 2020.

“Texas businesses that have operated in good faith shouldn’t have their livelihoods destroyed by frivolous lawsuits,” Abbott said at the address.

Some advocacy groups in Texas support Abbott.

George Christian of the Texas Civil Justice League says his organization is grateful the governor wants to protect businesses from pandemic-related lawsuits — as long as they are complying with CDC guidelines.

“We feel strongly it’s appropriate to have an emergency declaration to deal with what we view as an emergency issue,” Christian said.

The League, along with other business associations, helped draft a bill that would extend liability protections. Senator Kelly Hancock of Dallas is set to file the legislation.

Kelsey Streufert of the Texas Restaurant Association said small businesses need this legislation to stay afloat.

“Most of these businesses are not going to have the resources to defend themselves — even against a frivolous lawsuit,” Streufert said.

Annie Spilman, Texas State Director of National Federation of Independent Business, says 70% of their members are worried about a surge in liability claims.

“Small businesses are facing this extreme uncertainty,” Spilman said. “They will feel a little bit more certain about keeping their doors open, expanding their business, hiring more workers, you know increasing wages or benefits, if they know there are some protections in place for these businesses.”

Spilman says businesses that follow CDC guidelines should be protected from COVID-19-related lawsuits. She hopes the issue receives bipartisan support in the legislative session.

In response to Abbott’s emergency items, Texas Democratic Party spokesperson Abhi Rahman said the Governor should focus on more pressing issues.

"Instead of focusing on unemployed or sick Texans, Governor Abbott is once again starting his culture war by choosing to focus on issues that aren't affecting everyday Texans,” Rahman said. “We need to beat back the coronavirus crisis, administer more vaccines, and build our economy back better.”

Got a tip? Email Katya Bandouil at kbandouil@KERA.org. You can follow Katya on Twitter @kat372.

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Katya Bandouil