The following is an op-ed by Kentucky Chamber President & CEO Ashli Watts, Kentucky Retail Federation President Todd Griffin, Kentucky School Board Association Executive Director Kerri Schelling, Kentucky Medical Association Executive Vice President Patrick T. Padgett
With the distribution of vaccines underway, there is hope the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic may soon be over. However, there is a looming problem on which Kentucky’s small businesses, healthcare providers, and educators will face if action is not taken. A wave of unfair litigation. Frankfort must act soon to pass Senate Bill 5 which protects those who have remained on the front lines serving our communities.
Senate Bill 5 provides meaningful protections that will offer the certainty job creators and healthcare workers deserve. They have adapted to new and ever-changing guidelines and remained on the front lines working to help keep our economy going and our fellow Kentuckians safe. Without the protections found in Senate Bill 5, Kentucky risks delaying our recovery and stunting job growth. The restaurant owner downtown, your neighbor who works at the nearest hospital, and your child’s teacher are working hard to keep the people they serve safe, and should not need to worry about costly and unnecessary lawsuits.
Senate Bill 5 not only makes a statement that individuals acting in good faith should be protected but actually protects them. This protection is vital. There have already been COVID-19 lawsuits filed against business and health care providers across the nation and we know in 2020, over $23 million was spent by plaintiffs’ firms on COVID-19-related lawsuit advertisements. More than 30 states have already put liability protections in place. Without meaningful action, a wave of frivolous lawsuits against our Kentuckians who have done everything in their power to keep us safe is coming.
As with any issue, some have expressed concerns. Preserving a person’s right to seek justice if they are wronged is not in question. This legislation DOES NOT protect anyone who has been intentionally or grossly negligent. Some have said lawsuits won’t materialize, and we hope they are right. If this turns out to be the case, then what is the harm in stepping up to offer Kentuckians protections? However, if they are wrong and the aforementioned $23 million was only the start, it will be too late.
Kentucky has in place very strong health and safety guidelines to ensure employees, patrons and all Kentuckians remain safe. We all agree employers must follow these and they have done so-even though it has meant spending significant capital, time and resources to adapt to all of the new protocols. They have done this because they want to keep everyone safe and their business open. But that doesn’t protect them from frivolous lawsuits.
Kentuckians need help. Though the federal government offered assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program loan program and extended benefits for those who needed it most, we have seen record unemployment, businesses permanently shutter their doors and health care providers risk their health by providing care to our fellow Kentuckians. It is now time for Frankfort to help the job creators, healthcare providers, small business owners, and educators who have done everything to keep us all safe and our economy moving by passing Senate Bill 5.
It is too important an issue to wait.