Lawmakers debate if businesses should be liable if coronavirus spreads within store

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – As businesses reopen, many people are worried about having coronavirus spread in their store.

Many businesses are cleaning more, having people wear masks, and making customers keep their distance from each other. But a customer or employee could still contract the virus and spread it inside a store.

Kansas lawmakers are debating how to protect business owners from being held liable if they are sued because of coronavirus spread. New bills are being discussed that could impact restaurants, stores, nursing homes, and medical facilities.

Supporters said it wouldn’t totally protect companies if they were negligent, but the plan would establish a standard for courts to follow if a lawsuit is filed against a company during a specific time frame of the coronavirus outbreak.

“There’s always a debate of how far you go, we still want to maintain the rights for those that have been aggrieved or harmed, but also the same token, we don’t want to have the business community fighting off frivolous lawsuits that has nothing to do with their standard or their conduct,” McPherson Senator Rick Wilborn, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said. “It’s a delicate balance to get everybody on the same page.”

Members of the business community said they’re hearing concerns from people within the industry.

“If they’re doing all the recommended guidance and suggestions to offer those protections, that they’re not then going to be exposed to liability and face litigation to be sued over somebody who contracts or might not contract COVID from their facility, how are they going to be able to prove that,” Eric Stafford, director of government affairs at the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, said. “Everywhere you go you’re seeing nothing but protections that are being put in place for both the customers and the employees by businesses. They’re doing everything they can, but you can’t stop the spread of this virus, so how do you just slow it down.”

Plans are being debated in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Members are expected to vote on a plan on Wednesday, so the full legislature can vote on it on Thursday.

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