The international law firm Baker Donelson warned that companies will soon face a “tidal wave” of lawsuits related to COVID-19. For pharmacists and many other businesses that have stayed open to meet essential needs, the main risk likely comes “as injured individuals and their families cast blame for contracting the virus” and charge that “inadequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic” contributed to their exposure, the firm cautioned.

More than half of states granted immunity to healthcare providers at the start of the pandemic, according to the Claims Journal. While some of those laws covered pharmacies, more states are realizing that the businesses they’ve counted on for months might be at risk.

To protect businesses from such suits, governors in four states have signed into law acts that extend immunity from claims relating to COVID-19 to essential businesses (North Carolina) or to all businesses (Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming) as long as the business followed established safety rules and did not break any laws. 

Louisiana, Kansas, and Arizona have passed similar legislation through at least one house. Bills providing immunity have also been introduced in Alabama, Illinois, Texas, and South Carolina.

Hundreds of business organizations, including several representing pharmacists, joined to urge Congress to provide protection against liability as well. While Republicans in Congress have been eager to include broad immunity for businesses, Democrats have argued for more limited protection that would encourage businesses to take reasonable steps to protect employees and customers.

The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) signed on to the letter. 

“In many communities, the local pharmacist was the only health care provider open” while states were shut down, said NCPA CEO Douglas Hoey. “They’ve been compounding hand sanitizer, expanding home deliveries, offering curbside service, counseling patients, and dispensing the medicines that millions of Americans can’t do without. They shouldn’t have to look over their shoulder for lawsuits.”

Pharmacies may also have protection under the 2005 Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act. That act provided immunity to companies or organizations involved in the manufacture, testing, development, distribution, administration, or use of covered countermeasures, which may include certain drugs, biological products, or medical devices, according to the Arnold & Porter law firm.

But state protections may prove superior to immunity under federal law because of the varying specifics of state tort law.

“The practical realities of trying to reopen the economy, combined with the constitutional limitations of federalism, make it more likely than not we will have a patchwork of state-based immunity shields rather than a nationwide set up," legal analyst Brad Moss told The Hill.

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