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Trial lawyers attack

Empower Wisconsin | April 13, 2020

By Corydon Fish

MADISON — In a time when most are finding ways to work together, trial attorneys are looking to profit from others’ tragedies during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Trial lawyers have already filed lawsuits against soap manufacturers, insurance companies, and cruise ship lines. Some law firms are even creating task forces dedicated to targeting businesses over COVID-19-related claims, including businesses on the front lines of this pandemic — health care providers, grocery stores, and manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and essential medical equipment. These lawyers are even sizing up homeowners as possible defendants. The Wisconsin Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers should protect businesses and individuals doing the right thing from trial attorneys looking to prey upon them.

If you’ve ever watched daytime or late-night TV, you’ve seen one of the comically low production quality “if you or a loved one was injured” ads that then beg you to call an attorney cast right out of AMC’s “Better Call Saul” television show (featuring an unethical – if entertaining – attorney). These ads are already being aired across the country asking you to call if you’ve contracted an infectious disease, and trial attorneys want to blame the very industries keeping America running for your case.

Manufacturers of essential medical products are already in the crosshairs. During the midst of a worldwide shortage of hand sanitizer, trial attorneys have filed class-action lawsuits against the producers of Purell, which is likely to dampen the enthusiasm and financial viability of other businesses switching over to make the vital product. Further, trial lawyers are partially to blame for the shortage of respirators as they have been locked in a struggle with manufacturers of the vital safety equipment for over a decade, resulting in shifting production of respirators outside of the United States. 

Trial attorneys also are targeting other businesses, including grocery stores, health care providers, and pharmacies. They are soliciting individuals who have been infected with COVID-19 and arguing that because of the shelter-in-place orders around the nation, the only places to be infected are those few, most essential businesses that are allowed to remain open. They will have trouble proving causation – that an individual was actually infected at the business in question – but most of the time they will not have to. The trial bar will adopt the tried and true method of scaring businesses with mountains of bad press if they do not settle quickly and quietly. Most cases will never make it before a judge, and plaintiff attorneys, not actual injured victims, receive a windfall of settlement money, while bankrupting businesses

Even homeowners are not immune from overzealous attorneys. Trial attorneys may try to tap homeowners’ liability policies over clients who claim to have contracted COVID-19 in a particular residence. Again, proving causation would be problematic in many cases, but trial attorneys are not actually looking to go to trial but rather to bully and scare defendants into a settlement. 

The Legislature and governor can and should act quickly to protect businesses and individuals doing the right thing by providing essential services, making medical and personal protective equipment, and treating or otherwise helping those with COVID-19 from overzealous trial attorneys looking to sow division and profit off of those that step up during a global pandemic. Many other states – both blue and red – have started to take similar steps. This should not be partisan. This should not be controversial. Protecting those who protect us during these trying times is simply common sense.

Corydon Fish is the General Counsel and Director of Tax, Transportation, and Legal Affairs at Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. 

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