As the president and CEO of the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce, I am witnessing firsthand just how difficult it is for small businesses to keep up with shifting COVID-19 public health guidelines.
On top of the logistical challenges and expenses associated with increasing and decreasing capacities, inserting barriers and other protective equipment and shuffling staff, businesses are on their own to defend themselves against lawsuits that seek to take advantage of all these challenges they are facing.
Regardless of what the guidelines have been at any given time regarding COVID-19 over the past year, no business has been operating under normal circumstances or at full capacity. This means that many have struggled to make ends meet, been forced to temporarily close or gone out of business for good.
Already vulnerable, those companies that are lucky enough to remain afloat must now face the reality of defending themselves against COVID-19 claims in court.
Knowing the final guidelines on the pandemic and associated fallout is still being written, many trial attorney firms are looking to capitalize on the uncertainty, and on businesses who are vulnerable, to take advantage of this opportunity since it does not come along very often. Usually, frivolous claims are thrown out for lack of merit when companies can afford to fight a lawsuit or there is an airtight defense that cannot be breached.
Now, with companies low on funds and so much up in the air, businesses may be forced to settle instead of risking everything in court -- even when they are sure they could win.
Some plaintiff's lawyers may hope to exploit the inconsistencies surrounding COVID-19 litigation and workplace or consumer protection laws so they can receive a large settlement.
Either way, these actions on the business community are holding back California's economic recovery, and they are hurting employees who need to return to work and consumers who rely on local businesses.
I urge our lawmakers at the state and local levels to support legislation that will curtail this dangerous pattern and stop it before it is too late.
Passing liability protections for businesses would go a long way in rejuvenating our economy, providing security for thousands of families who rely on jobs at small businesses and deter frivolous lawsuits that end up being paid in higher prices by the consumer.
Editor's note: Steve Van Dorn is the president and CEO of the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce.