Senators Introduce Bill to Allow Americans to Take Legal Action Against China Over Pandemic

July 21, 2020 Updated: July 22, 2020

Six Republican senators have jointly introduced a bill to allow Americans to sue China over the COVID-19 pandemic in U.S. federal courts.

“Americans who have been victimized by the lies and deceit of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) … deserve the opportunity to hold China accountable and to demand just compensation,” stated Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), in a July 20 press release from her office.

The bill would provide Americans with the “legal tools necessary to sue the Chinese government in federal court for creating and worsening the COVID-19 pandemic,” McSally added.

The legislation was jointly introduced by McSally, Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).

Beijing initially went to great lengths to conceal the spread of the CCP virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease. It silenced eight doctors, among them Li Wenliang and Ai Fen, respectively an ophthalmologist and head of the emergency department at Wuhan Central Hospital.

The whistleblower doctors were silenced after posting on Chinese social media about a new form of pneumonia that was spreading in Wuhan city in late December.

The World Health Organization also recently backtracked from its initial claim that Beijing reported the virus outbreak late last year to the world health body—instead saying that the agency found out about the outbreak through a post on the Wuhan health commission’s website.

The United States, after witnessing its first confirmed case of the virus in Washington state in mid-January, now has over 3.8 million infection cases and over 140,950 deaths due to the virus.

Sen. Cotton said Beijing’s coverup “led to thousands of needless deaths and untold economic harm,” according to the press release. He added: “It’s only appropriate that we hold the Chinese government accountable for the damage it has caused.”

The bill, named the Civil Justice for Victims of COVID Act, would amend the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which is a U.S. law that insulates countries from being sued in the United States.

The amendment would strip any foreign state, in particular China, of its sovereign immunity for “any reckless actions or omissions,” including “conscious disregard of the need to report information promptly or deliberately hiding relevant information” causing the pandemic, according to the bill text.

Meanwhile, any citizens or residents of the United States who have been hurt by such “actions or omissions” may sue the foreign state “in any appropriate U.S. district court.”

The plaintiff “shall recover threefold the damages he or she sustains and the cost of the suit, including attorney’s fees,” according to the bill.

The U.S. courts would have the power to issue any writ or order of injunction against foreign states, such as freezing any assets of the Chinese regime.

U.S courts could halt any legal proceeding if the U.S. Secretary of State determines that the United States is “engaged in good-faith discussion with the foreign state defendant.” The halt is limited to no more than 180 days, and can be extended for another 180 days at most, according to the bill.

State attorney generals could also bring a civil lawsuit before U.S. district courts on behalf of their state residents.

If signed into law, the amendment could apply to the Chinese regime’s actions, or lack thereof, before or after the bill’s enactment.

“This pandemic is far from over, and every day Americans continue to suffer thanks to the CCP’s incompetence and lies. The victims deserve to have their day in court,” Hawley stated in the press release.

There have been at least ten lawsuits filed in the United States against China, claiming that Chinese authorities did not do enough to stop the spread of the virus. Eight of them are class-action lawsuits, while the other two were filed by the attorney generals of Missouri and Mississippi.

Robert Boone, an attorney in Los Angeles, told the Associated Press in May that these lawsuits faced “an uphill battle” in order to meet certain exceptions under the foreign immunities law.

The Civil Justice for Victims of COVID Act has incorporated elements from previously stand-alone bills introduced by McSally and Blackburn (S.3592), Hawley (S.3588), and Cotton (S.3662), according to the press release. 

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