Education and business groups raise concerns of potential COVID-19 lawsuits

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) – With school districts continuing to evaluate decisions regarding holding in-person classes this fall and businesses are increasing services, leaders in both sectors say they recognize there is a higher risk for the spread of the coronavirus and are worried about what they call potentially debilitating lawsuits.

“Schools are really engaged in trying to make sure we can bring students back into the buildings and the classrooms,” Jon Bales, the executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators (WASDA), told CBS 58 in an interview. “They are expected and accountable to make those environments as safe as you possibly can.”

WASDA and groups like Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) are pushing lawmakers at the state and federal level to pass legislation to put in place limited liability protections in case someone at a school or business becomes sick with COVID-19 and chooses to take legal action against that entity, even if a school or business is following ordinances and guidelines to minimize spread.

“Even in those circumstances the possibility exists that someone could contract the virus and that’s the scope of immunity that we’re talking about,” Bales said. “It’s not blanket immunity or protection against negligence.”

Organizations like WASDA and WMC say the financial burdens caused by the pandemic are already straining schools and businesses.

“A lot of businesses right now are facing very difficult and challenging financial times,” Scott Manley, the executive VP of government relations for WMC said. “It’s not going to be in anybody’s best interest if businesses and local governments and schools are having to pay money in what are essentially frivolous lawsuits.”

Congress is considering putting in place such protections in its next coronavirus legislation. At the state level, it’s unlikely action will happen as the Legislature has adjourned for the year.

CBS 58 reached out to the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association and received this statement from MTEA President Amy Mizialko:

“The fact that businesses and school districts are already planning ahead for liability lawsuits should raise a giant red flag that they are making a potentially deadly mistake. 
If an employer forces workers to return to in-person work, where they come into close contact with other people during the worst pandemic in a century, they should be going to great lengths to provide them with assurances, not lobbying government to absolve themselves of responsibility.”
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