June 24, 2020
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had immense consequences for individuals, families, and businesses throughout the United States. As states begin the process of reopening, we are once again seeing COVID-19 infections and deaths spike, and as of yet it does not appear as though governors will re-introduce the strict lockdowns that were implemented in the earlier stages of the crisis.
For businesses, this has a number of important implications. While it may mean that they are able to restore some semblance of financial stability, it also means that they must be fully prepared to protect their employees and customers against the risks of COVID-19 exposure. They must be prepared for the possibility of litigation as well, as a wave of lawsuits and enforcement proceedings is almost certainly coming.
According to federal defense attorney Nick Oberheiden, PhD, “Reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic presents both opportunities and risks for all types of businesses. While the ability to operate is essential, operating during the pandemic also brings with it the possibility of getting sued for COVID-19 exposure and a multitude of other issues.”
As Dr. Oberheiden explains, businesses operating during the pandemic have numerous legal obligations, and they owe varying duties to their employees and customers. “From hospitals to supermarkets, and from industrial facilities to big-box retailers, right now risks pervade virtually all aspects of many businesses’ operations. As a result, businesses should be strictly adhering to protocols that are custom-tailored to their operations, and they should be continuously reassessing their risks in real time.”
The litigation risks facing U.S. companies range from exposure-related lawsuits to federal enforcement litigation involving companies’ commercial activities and their use of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds. “Right now, we are seeing companies being targeted with an extremely broad range of allegations,” says Dr. Oberheiden. “Companies are getting sued for allegedly failing to protect their customers and violating their employees’ statutory rights, and they are facing federal investigations targeting allegations of government program fraud, corporate fraud, tax fraud, and other violations of federal law.”
In order to mitigate their litigation risk, Dr. Oberheiden recommends that all companies carefully assess their past and future compliance efforts. “While companies need to be careful going forward, they must not overlook the possibility that mistakes have already been made.” Dr. Oberheiden continues, “Effective litigation risk management requires a comprehensive approach, and company leaders need to have insight into any and all threats to their company’s financial stability and public image. If a threat exists, it should be addressed proactively, and appropriate steps should be taken to prevent the threat from leading to costly, and potentially business-threatening, litigation.”
Dr. Oberheiden is the founder of Oberheiden P.C., a federal compliance and defense law firm that represents companies nationwide in civil litigation and federal enforcement matters. He can be reached by phone at 888-680-1745 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The information contained in this statement does not constitute legal advice. Prior results do not guarantee similar outcomes. This information may constitute attorney advertising in some jurisdictions. All website disclaimers apply.
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