COVID-19 Update: Trade Groups Call on Congress for Liability Relief Legislation

By Desiree Homer

More than 200 trade groups, including the American International Automobile Dealers Association and the National Automobile Dealers Association, are now urging Congress for liability relief legislation. As the nation’s businesses begin opening their doors, there is a new potential risk for business liability, should visiting customers become exposed to or infected with COVID-19. This call for Congress to provide some temporary relief is a priority for auto industry advocates. It’s a liability that goes beyond the automotive sector, too, and various industries, including manufacturing and healthcare, have joined the efforts. As a dealer, you may have been evaluating your own risks in reopening.

What These Industry Groups Are Asking

A letter was sent to Congress last Wednesday, asking for temporary liability protections “against COVID-19 exposure claims.” The plea recognizes that while many states have already implemented some layers of protection, a more national response, with language and guidelines, is needed. These auto groups are pointing out that the “prospect of such litigation and associated exorbitant legal costs” would both deter dealers from reopening and devastate those attempting to reopen, already having sustained the shutdown crisis.

Earlier this month, another letter was issued to Congress from other industry groups, including the National Association of Manufacturers, Alliance for Automotive Innovation, and Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association. These requests seek to protect these businesses from “unscrupulous COVID-19-related lawsuits.”

Dealerships Recognize the New Risks

Coronavirus-related lawsuits pose a real threat to businesses, including dealerships. While many dealers are diligent about embracing the safest best practices and health department guidelines, it’s still possible that customers or staff to become exposed to the virus. Having legislation in place that is designed to protect dealers from lawsuits, in the more immediate weeks or months of reopening, would offer a layer of liability protection. The automotive industry is already seeing potential pitfalls, as employees head back to production lines.

Dealers Are Contingency Planning

As dealers move forward to reopen, bring back staff, and engage customers again, they’re also contingency planning. Until there are guidelines in place protecting dealers from exposures and liabilities, some dealer owners are strategizing about how to handle potential customer infections and subsequent legal action as a result. They’re contacting their insurance providers and exploring their steps with regard to workers’ compensation coverages within their states. Dealers are having conversations with their legal representatives, to make sure they’re making every good faith effort to protect employees and customers.

The uncertain times continue beyond the shutdowns. And for now, dealers can take solace in knowing the industry advocacy groups are urging Congress to lay in protective measures. Planning for the worst-case scenario may be the best course of action for now, however. Tune into a recent Dealer News Today podcast conversation with Ben Keating, owner of Keating Auto Group in Texas. He talks about his leadership challenges at the helm of 18 dealerships, and how he navigated through having one of the first confirmed cases of COVID-19, linked to his Toyota dealership.