Outraged Dems Defend Trial Lawyers, Attack McConnell’s Demand for Medical Worker Liability Shield

By Mark Tapscott
Mark Tapscott
Mark Tapscott
Congressional Correspondent
Mark Tapscott is an award-winning investigative editor and reporter who covers Congress, national politics, and policy for The Epoch Times. Mark was admitted to the National Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Hall of Fame in 2006 and he was named Journalist of the Year by CPAC in 2008. He was a consulting editor on the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Other Than Honorable” in 2014.
April 30, 2020Updated: April 30, 2020

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would rather protect big corporations than help small businesses, families, or hospitals on the front lines of the fight against the CCP virus, according to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

“The red line for Sen. Mitch McConnell and Republicans in the next emergency relief package isn’t saving small businesses, rescuing hospitals, increasing testing, or helping families,” Schumer wrote in a tweet on April 28.

“It’s protecting corporations that put frontline workers in harm’s way. How does that make sense?” Schumer said. He also vowed the same day on PBS’s NewsHour that “if it’s going to help big CEOs and not help the workers or hurt the workers, that’s not going to happen.”

Schumer’s comments and similar ones from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) came just hours after McConnell announced that the Senate will return to Washington on May 4 and described his top priority for a possible fourth coronavirus recovery measure.

That priority is liability protection for doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel battling the disease that has thus far killed more than 58,000 Americans.

“My red line going forward on this bill is we need to provide protection—litigation protection—for those who have been on the frontline. Hospitals, doctors, nurses,” McConnell told Fox News April 28.

“Imagine you are a businessman thinking about reopening, and you’ve heard that the trial lawyers all over the country are sharpening their pencils getting ready to sue you, claiming that you didn’t engage in proper distancing or other issues related to health and safety,” he said.

The stage is thus set for the Senate’s return, for what promises to be a knock-down, drag-out fight that could lead to a legislative stalemate, with Republicans seeing an opportunity to pass long-sought legal reforms to contain trial lawyers, and Democrats determined to protect their longtime allies.

But there are hints here and there, too, of a possible deal in which Democrats accept modest liability reforms and Republicans look the other way on aid to blue states such as New York that have been hit hard by the CCP virus.

Republicans have argued for years that trial lawyers use the threat of lawsuits to force big corporations, doctors, and small businesses to settle malpractice and consumer “tort” liability cases out of court to avoid jury trials that often produce costly judgments for plaintiffs and enrich their opportunistic attorneys.

Those same attorneys are among Democrats’ most reliable and lucrative sources of campaign funding and other less-obvious forms of assistance.

Consumers suffer, too, according to a 2018 Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) study that found that such litigation costs $429 billion annually, an average of more than $3,300 per U.S. family. The ILR is a branch of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Heritage Foundation Senior Legal Fellow Hans von Spakovsky noted another, even more serious, potential cost stemming from the fact “those trying to produce an effective vaccine should be protected from lawsuits; otherwise, their work may be hampered because they are risk-averse.”

Temperature Rising on Capitol Hill

While congressional and campaign strategists interviewed by The Epoch Times on April 30 agreed the heat is rising on Capitol Hill, they are less sanguine about a possible deal.

“It is a wise move for McConnell to prevent trial lawyers from taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis,” said Brian Darling, former counsel to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and founder of Liberty Government Affairs.

“This will put the Democrats in a box because they will look like they are defending the trial lawyers over medical heroes if they demand McConnell remove a liability shield provision from the bill,” Darling said.

Republican campaign strategist Kevin Sheridan agreed, saying, “If it’s opportunistic trial lawyers vs. front line health care heroes, McConnell wins the public opinion battle, and it’s not close.

“However, given the importance of the trial lawyer lobby to the Democrats’ fundraising, don’t expect them to roll over quickly. Every trial lawyer in America is picking out a second beach house right now, so expect them to throw all they’ve got at this fight.”

South Carolina-based Democratic strategist Jimmy Williams scoffed, however, saying “Republican attacks on the trial bar are as old as Donald Trump’s hair color. Everyone hates trial lawyers until they need one.”

Williams, a former senior economic adviser to Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), said Democrats “hold the upper hand and should hold out because this virus is going nowhere fast and the GOP controls half the legislative branch and the entire executive branch. They’re responsible for running the country.”

Asked about a potential deal, Jim Manley, former communications director to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said he doubted it, “since if McConnell tries to hold up aid to state and local governments, he will lose a good portion of his own caucus.”

Manley also predicted that “this liability issue is going to greatly complicate the upcoming negotiations, and there is a decent chance that it will grind things to a halt.”

Veteran tax activist Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), said, “Trial lawyers, more than any other political machine, can trash the U.S. economy, leaving it weak going into the 2020 election.”

Then, Norquist said, they will “finance the Democratic Party blaming Trump for the lousy economy ensured by their own action. The Democrats will never agree to any meaningful limits on trial lawyer predation.”

Darling predicted “far more partisan fights … because both parties recognize [coronavirus relief] might be the last prominent piece of legislation to pass before the November elections.”

Contact Mark Tapscott at Mark.Tapscott@epochtimes.nyc