As a retired Air Force general, I have immense empathy for those fighting on the front lines in the war against COVID-19. I also know that many of my fellow veterans are currently working on the frontlines 24/7 to try and keep their businesses open during the economic standstill. The most recent data found that there are around 2.5 million veteran-owned small businesses operating in the United States. I imagine each and every one of those 2.5 million business owners are feeling immense stress today as money gets tighter and the economy gets worse.
Former service members are highly equipped to successfully run a small business. The skills we develop during our service include key characteristics that make for a great business owner, including leadership and perseverance. Ultimately, we know how to handle the unexpected, and we never back down from a challenge. Unfortunately, there are some challenges that pose such an immense financial threat that no amount of resilience could overcome. Today, that challenge comes in the form of the threat of coronavirus-related litigation.
As the country begins the process of slowly reopening, the fear of being hit with one of these malicious lawsuits is as prevalent as ever among small business owners. The threat is so huge that it’s forcing many to hold off on reopening their doors, a decision that could prove devastating for both the business itself and the economy as a whole.
Recent data found that more than 40 million Americans – or one in four – had filed for unemployment benefits this year. In addition, from hand sanitizing stations to thermometers, to gloves and masks, the list of purchases to ensure safety is a difficult feat for small businesses already struggling to stay above water. Not to mention the cost of reopening a business in general, which includes the cost of rehiring employees, advertising and restocking.
Now, threats of COVID-related lawsuits have added to the list of costs. The cost of fighting a lawsuit is so high that most business owners will be forced to settle, an equally destructive option that could still shut them down. Either way, if more businesses close, jobs for our veterans and others are at risk.
I am not by any means suggesting that a business that breaks protocol or recklessly puts customers or employees in harm’s way should not be liable. I am simply arguing that a business owner who does everything in their power to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should not be subject to a lawsuit if an accident occurs. It is an invisible, contagious disease, and it’s impossible to guarantee absolute safety. To suggest a business owner is at fault is unreasonable.
Legislators are discussing coming together to address this potential problem with COVID-19 liability protections. I applaud them, and I know that our veteran-owned small businesses do the same. We must do everything we can to speed up our economic recovery.
Jim Hart, who served as a brigadier general in the Air Force, is the chairman of Floridians for Government Accountability.