A sign outside of RD’s Barber Shop indicating that they are closed can be seen here in Kenai, Alaska on March 25, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

A sign outside of RD’s Barber Shop indicating that they are closed can be seen here in Kenai, Alaska on March 25, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Alaska Voices: Protect Alaska’s economy from further COVID damage

If business owners take reasonable safety measures by following available public health guidelines, they shouldn’t have to work under the threat of virus-related litigation.

By Bill Vivlamore

It’s safe to say that 2020 was both a surprising year and a trying one for many. A year ago, no one could have predicted the effect the coronavirus would have on Alaska or the multiple shutdowns that have occurred. But now that the vaccine is becoming available, many are hopeful that life will return to normal. As businesses continue trying to recover and reopen, it is critical that they and their customers all feel safe. The best way to ensure this is by expanding liability protection from COVID claims (now being provided to health care providers and PPE manufacturers) to all Alaska businesses permanently.

Naturally, many businesses are concerned about how they might be affected by COVID-19 while open to the public. Businesses worry about the risk of lawsuits if customers believe they got infected while patronizing that business, during 2020 or in the future. Business liability protection shields businesses that have taken appropriate precautions to avoid spreading coronavirus from being wrongfully sued by a customer for exposure.

If business owners take reasonable safety measures by following available public health guidelines, they shouldn’t have to work under the threat of virus-related litigation — business is risky enough. In fact, polling from May of 2020 tells us that 44% of businesses have faced long-term negative impacts due to the economic shutdown. Unfortunately, we can assume that even more businesses have been negatively impacted after the latest rounds of shutdowns. The last thing Alaska businesses need right now is to be financially burdened by lawsuits, despite taking steps to avoid spreading coronavirus. Of course, this protection would not cover businesses that are clearly being negligent.

At least 16 other states have already taken steps to protect their businesses since the pandemic, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and Wyoming. Even more states, Alaska included, have extended liability protection to at least some sectors or businesses temporarily. Currently, Alaska protects health care workers and manufacturers of PPE. Alaska should expand its COVID liability protection to all businesses permanently.

The federal government has already spent months squabbling over how to protect businesses from unnecessary litigation, and it would be foolish to wait for those in D.C. to come to an agreement. Alaska can follow in the steps of other states and protect its own economy, businesses and business owners by expanding the temporary business liability protection policy to all businesses permanently. This would allow all parties involved to feel safer and help restart the state’s economy. All Alaska businesses need to know that if they employ the right measures, they will be held harmless from further damage due to the pandemic, just as employees and customers need to know they are safe to go about their daily lives once again.

Bill Vivlamore has lived in Alaska for more than 30 years and is an active member of the business community. Bill is the president of Vivlamore Companies, a collection of family owned and operated businesses in numerous market sectors including wholesale distribution, real estate, food service and hospitality.

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