DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – At Desperados Mexican restaurant in Garland, owner Mike Levy continues with his takeout and curbside-pickup business only. “Our sales are down 60% and we’re just fighting to stay alive,” he said.
He hasn’t reopened his restaurant to dine-in customers under the 25% occupancy rule. “Before we do open that door, we want to make sure that everybody is safe,” he said.
He said while he checks his employees’ temperature every day when they come to work, regularly sanitizes the restaurant and requires everyone to wear a mask, he still worries that once he reopens more of his business that he could be sued by a customer if he or she is later diagnosed with COVID-19.
“That’s a little scary, it’s a little overwhelming,” Levy said.
On the U.S. Senate floor Monday afternoon, Texas Sen. John Cornyn discussed legislation that he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are drafting that would protect businesses and frontline health care workers from what he described as baseless, yet costly, lawsuits related to the virus.
Sen. Cornyn said, “We simply cannot allow a flood of frivolous lawsuits.”
During an interview via Zoom, the Senator said, “The best way to do that is by following the guidance of people like the Centers for Diseases Control and if people do that, then I don’t think they should be held liable.”
Under the bill, in order for businesses to have their liability limited, they’d be required to comply with public health guidelines regarding cleaning and protective gear.
Sen. Cornyn said the legislation would not protect businesses or owners who engage in grossly negligent, willful, or criminal misconduct. “My view is that we ought to make sure that people who recklessly disregard the safety of others or that engage in willful conduct, that those are the folks who need to be held accountable,” he said.
The Texas Governor, Lt. Governor, and House Speaker have sent a letter to Congressional leaders asking them to support a bill offering liability protections for businesses and healthcare workers in the next COVID-19 relief package.
But Dallas attorney Chad Ruback disagreed with Cornyn’s proposal. “Frankly, I think it would be bad law,” he said.
Ruback said if businesses are doing the right thing, they’re already protected under the existing standard, and that the new system being developed would be a dramatic change. “A gross negligence standard elevates the burden that an individual would need to satisfy to such a high level that it would be almost impossible for the individual to prevail. It’s a standard that would require the individual to show that the business knew that its actions were going to be highly risky and consciously chose to proceed with those actions anyway,” he said.
As for Mike Levy, he said he likes the certainty the new legislation might bring, especially because COVID-19 has created so much uncertainty.
“I like it. I know personally, with our restaurants, we are following every rule that we can,” Levy said.