NAICU Washington Update

Senate Committee Holds COVID-19 Liability Hearing

May 15, 2020

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing earlier this week to examine liability concerns arising as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the hearing primarily focused on liability for traditional businesses, the higher education perspective was also represented.

In his testimony, Leroy Tyner, Jr., General Counsel at Texas Christian University emphasized the liability risks that institutions of higher education may face when determining when and how to reopen their campuses. According to Tyner, “without some clarity on the standards of care and some liability protections, universities, like other businesses, will face huge transaction costs associated with COVID-19 spread claims, and the additional financial pressures will almost certainly lead to the permanent closure of institutions already stressed by the lost revenues and additional costs associated with COVID-19’s impact on operations.”

During the hearing, Republicans and Democrats appeared to hold split views on the need for legislation to provide relief from liability. In general, Republicans emphasized that such legislation is essential to protecting businesses and reopening the economy, while Democrats expressed concerns about the negative impact that such legislation could have on workers. There was, however, bipartisan agreement on the need for guidance from the government that would help establish a standard of care.

No legislative proposal has yet emerged from Capitol Hill, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has stated that Senate Republicans will not consider a COVID-19 economic relief package for states unless such legislation includes liability relief.


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