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Statewide Virtual Summit: Pandemic Liability Lawsuits

On Wednesday, October 7, 2020, at 2 pm, Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) of Central Texas is hosting a virtual policy summit on pandemic liability lawsuits in conjunction with Bay Area CALA and CALA RGV.

RSVP here:

Pandemic for Profit

From Texans for Lawsuit Reform

As the U.S. continues to deal with the widespread effects of COVID-19, it’s clear no industry is immune to the pandemic’s wrath—including law firms. But do all of these law firms really need to dig into the government wallet?

Some of the largest personal injury firms in the nation (many of which call Texas home) received loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The program is intended to help small businesses keep their workforces employed during the pandemic, primarily by covering the cost of payroll.

Several plaintiff law firms took PPP loans—which required them to certify that the loans were necessary to preserve their ongoing operations—while simultaneously making political contributions to at least one political action committee.

Further, it’s curious that many of these firms have run—and in some cases, continue to run—TV ads touting multi-million-dollar lawsuit awards and settlements, even as they claim to need a taxpayer-funded bailout to keep staff employed. 

These personal injury law firms cumulatively received millions of dollars from the PPP at a time when many small businesses could not access the funds. To add insult to injury to job creators struggling to keep their doors open, some personal injury firms have begun exploring opportunities to file COVID-related lawsuits against a variety of businesses.

As TLR General Counsel Lee Parsley recently noted, the last thing employers need right now is to deal with a costly and time consuming lawsuit, especially if it has been fueled by a taxpayer-funded loan. The majority of businesses are doing their best to serve their communities, adhere to public health standards for their employees and customers and protect jobs. 

Although there is much we still don’t know about how the coming months will shake out, one thing is clear: recovering from this pandemic will require us to do everything we can to support job creation and strengthen our economy. That includes shutting down opportunistic personal injury trial lawyers who attempt to use the pandemic for profit.

Senator Cornyn Introduces COVID Liability Protection Legislation

By George Christian, General Counsel, Texas Civil Justice League 

Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) has introduced legislation to shield businesses, health care providers, schools, non-profit organizations, and other entities from liability for personal injury claims allegedly caused by exposure to the novel coronavirus. The Act applies to injuries from alleged exposure occurring between December 1, 2019, and the later of the end of the declared emergency or October 1, 2024. Claimants have one year to file suit from the date of the alleged exposure. The Act applies to pending claims.

The SAFE Act creates a safe harbor for entities that make reasonable efforts to comply with mandatory public health guidelines or, if no mandatory guidelines are in effect, with at least one set of voluntary guidelines. If multiple guidelines apply to the entity, compliance with any one of them will satisfy the safe harbor requirement. An entity loses the protection of the safe harbor if it does not take reasonable steps to comply with guidelines, and the entity’s gross negligence or willful misconduct causes the claimant’s injury. The Act contains similar protections for health care providers, employers for employment related exposure, and product manufacturers. The SAFE Act pre-empts state law to the extent the state does not have more stringent liability protections, so it acts as a floor rather than a ceiling.

TCJL applauds Senator Cornyn for his hard work on this legislation and will work with its members to secure its passage, presumably as part of a larger coronavirus relief bill under consideration in Congress.

Read the bill here:

Bexar County civil court will be the pilot for virtual jury trials

Our “new normal” is bringing many changes, but one thing hasn’t changed: the importance that jury participation plays in our judicial system. In August, Bexar County will serve as the test case for holding virtual jury trials in Texas. Officials with the 57th Civil District Court, along with the Texas Supreme Court and Texas Office of Court Administration, have been brainstorming on how to conduct virtual court proceedings via Zoom since jury duty was suspended in March.

While jury summons and service processes will certainly look different, many aspects will remain the same. When a resident receives a summons, they must answer a questionnaire the helps lawyers and the court in seating a virtual jury panel. The same exemptions (such as age, student status, active duty military) will apply. However, a summons will also include information on how to use Zoom and access WiFi and electronic devices if needed.

While this transition won’t happen without technical difficulties, many are optimistic that virtual jury trails could bring much-needed progress to the justice system.

Read more: