CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — The New Hampshire Senate is considering legislation to shield businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits though none have been filed since the pandemic began.
Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, sponsored the bill on behalf of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire. David Creer, the association’s director of public policy, told the Senate Commerce Committee the issue is a top priority among the group’s members, who can’t afford to fight a frivolous lawsuit.
“The funds used to defend themselves against a lawsuit can be better spent on keeping employees, trying to recover from lost revenues as a result of the pandemic,” he said at a public hearing Monday.
Businesses that aren’t following state and federal guidelines wouldn’t be protected, he said. And while no lawsuits have been filed yet in New Hampshire, it will happen eventually, he said. About 200 lawsuits have been filed nationwide, and several other states are considering similar legislation.
“We have a real opportunity here to prevent this from becoming a problem,” Creer said.
Attorneys were among the strongest critics of the bill, including several who said they represented businesses and have not had clients clamoring for such protection.
Nashua attorney Tony Sculimbrene said there have only been four COVID-19 related lawsuits in all of New England, which is considerably less than one per million people.
“You have the same chance of being killed by a poisonous plant or animal as a business has of getting sued for a COVID-related lawsuit,” he said. “The idea that this is a burning need is simply not true.”
Under state law, work related injury claims are adjudicated by the Department of Labor. Lexie Rojas, an attorney with the department, said employers have filed 3,200 notices of potential injury involving COVID-19. Of those, just six rose to the level of a disputed claim, she said.
In other coronavirus developments:
The New Hampshire Circuit Court is looking to reduce the backlog of eviction cases caused by the coronavirus pandemic by offering free mediation to resolve landlord-tenant disputes.
The circuit courts in Concord and Claremont will serve as the initial pilot sites for the voluntary program with trained mediators.
“Mediation gives landlords and tenants the opportunity to come up with creative solutions that are beneficial to both parties and tailored to their individual situations,” Margaret Huang, coordinator of the Office of Mediation and Arbitration, said in a statement Monday. She added, “this emergency pilot project could not be better positioned to resolve these cases during the COVID-19 pandemic, when both landlords and tenants may have been seriously financially impacted.”