Independent grocers need protection from unfounded COVID-19 lawsuits

Jul 1, 2020

Over the last 40 years, our country has seen a dramatic increase in unscrupulous lawyers seeking to profit from baseless class action lawsuits. It's a really ugly trend, and one that is more dangerous in the face of COVID-19 than ever before. Frankly, I'm both saddened and disgusted to see it now affecting independent retailers who have worked so hard and tirelessly to serve their communities—often to their own detriment. 

Bob Rybick, CEO of Geissler’s Supermarkets, wrote an op-ed on this topic that was originally published in June in The Hartford Courant. I'm really proud of Bob and the work he's doing to protect our industry, and encourage you to read his opinion and call to action below. You can find the original article here, and visit NGA's Take Action Center to contact your elected official(s) to protect yourself, your business, and your team from liability during the COVID-19 crisis. 

—IGA CEO John Ross

A message from Geissler's Supermarkets CEO Bob Rybick: 

Until a few months ago, a trip to the grocery store was something most of us took for granted. But that has dramatically changed. In the midst of a global pandemic, grocery store operators and their employees have overcome obstacle after obstacle to provide Americans with life-sustaining food, beverages, personal care and household products.

Despite our tireless efforts, local independent grocers across the country face a major threat of costly and unfounded lawsuits simply for staying open during the crisis—unless our federal elected officials act to offer us protections.

For nearly 100 years, Geissler’s Supermarkets and other independent grocers have served Connecticut, providing access to fresh, high-quality foods, and supporting the hometown economy through our partnerships with local farmers and producers. Being the hometown grocer means we take our responsibility to feed and protect our community very seriously during these unprecedented times brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic.

If you have shopped in a grocery store since the stay-at-home order began, you have noticed some major changes in your shopping experience that are designed to protect your health and safety. We have established enhanced safety protocols, including the installation of Plexiglas shields at checkout to protect our associates and implementation of one-way aisles to allow for social distancing and the protection of our customers.

We are committed to serving our communities throughout these times of uncertainty. Each day, we are working around the clock to stock shelves, clean stores, and support customers. At Geissler’s, we even partnered with a local distillery to address the shortage in hand sanitizer and donated products to healthcare workers at Hartford Hospital for distribution to front-line workers.

Grocers recognize these are unprecedented times and they remain committed to doing their best for consumers and keeping the public informed as things change. In the face of these challenges, we have overcome many obstacles, made significant changes to our operations, invested heavily in our employees, and kept our doors open.

But the unfortunate reality is, even with all of the proactive steps we’ve taken to protect our associates and shoppers, the Coronavirus is everywhere, and it is not possible for us to guarantee that it won’t impact our stores. That is why we should not be punished with unfair lawsuits just because we keep the doors open so our customers can buy food. Already, more than 3,100 Coronavirus lawsuits have been filed, and that number is rising quickly.

According to the CDC, COVID-19 has reached “community spread,” meaning people become infected without knowing how or where they were infected. It would be very difficult to uncover the source of an infection, meaning I am vulnerable to claims that the virus was contracted at my store.

Fighting these claims will be costly and time-consuming and might even put me out of business. If we make a good faith effort to implement the health and safety precautions, I should not have to defend against difficult to disprove claims and divert precious resources that my stores and my employees need.

Congress can help solve this problem by creating targeted liability protections for companies that follow federal and state public health guidelines during the Coronavirus pandemic. Fortunately, my elected officials are best positioned to help. With U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., serving as the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee that oversees legal reform, his voice of support for this plan would be instrumental in its passing Congress.

As Congress continues to debate another round of Coronavirus relief legislation, I am requesting my elected officials include limited liability protections so independent grocers can continue to do what we do best: support the community that we have worked so hard for generations to serve.

Robert Rybick
Geissler's Supermarkets CEO

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