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Lawmakers can stop the small business killer – Coronavirus lawsuits

As you know, COVID-19 has not been kind to California’s small business community. One day it was business as usual. The next, businesses were shutting their doors, hoping for a short recovery only to find those doors forcibly remain shut for the next several months.

This was devastating.

Employees had to be let go and no revenue was coming in. Then, what felt like years later, they were given the go-ahead to cautiously reopen. It was great to get back to business, but it came with new and unprecedented challenges.

For starters, reopening a business is more costly than you think. It means purchasing new supplies to restock our empty shelves. It means rehiring employees and rearranging product pick-up and delivery options to accommodate no contact situations.

And, with COVID-19 still at large, it means having to do a lot of things differently than we once did, including the added costs of purchasing safety equipment like masks and hand sanitizer. Depending on the business, it can mean rearranging layouts or installing Plexiglass.

Given today’s unemployment rates and worsening economy, we’re also experiencing less business and traffic in stores. Fewer people are willing to shop or make unnecessary purchases as more and more find themselves on a tightened budget.

This – combined with reopening costs – makes it a fairly daunting time to be a small business owner. But at the end of the day, our goal is to keep our employees on payroll and help the members of our communities by providing quality service and products for others. Which makes all those sacrifices worth it.

However, there is an additional obstacle far out of our control and even more daunting.

I believe that right now, the biggest threat to small businesses is the threat of lawsuits. Once COVID-19 hit, most of us were assessing the situation and calculating how to make rent and payroll. At the same time, the bad actor lawyers of America saw an opportunity to make some cash.

They began identifying new litigation opportunities, developing advertisements and filing lawsuits on behalf of customers or employees who allegedly contracted the virus while on a business’s property, claiming the business owner is liable. 

A plaintiff’s attorney preys on individuals who have contracted COVID-19 and promises them a payout if they team up to sue their employer. After the arrangement, the business owner will receive the notification and only have a couple options: to fight the claim in court or agree on a settlement, both options costing a business most of their resources and potentially putting them out of business. 

As we know, it’s nearly impossible to know when or where someone contracted COVID-19, but that doesn’t matter to the claimant’s attorney. They’ll file the suit, forcing the business owner to defend themselves, costing them thousands in legal fees. Given the costs already associated with running a business in today’s world, this would certainly shut a business down and eliminate jobs.

This threat is so real that it’s making many business owners weary of reopening at all, which is the last thing this economy needs. We want to open and get back to a new and safe normal, but do not need the threat of a lawsuit hampering our way to conduct business.

Business owners have good intentions to conduct a well-run coffee shop, salon, hardware store or convenience store with hopes consumers will return.

Our state and federal policymakers need to realize that small businesses make up the backbone of our struggling economy, we must put a stop to this ridiculous practice that threatens their very existence. California small businesses need COVID-19 liability relief now.

Darrell Feil
Darrell Feil is the owner of Abate-A-Weed, a small business in Bakersfield.