EDITOR, Daily News:
My son and I are the owners and operators of several small businesses in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough. For the most part, our businesses are industrial, but we also have some retail operations. Recently we’ve ventured into the tourism industry. Our industrial operations have been deemed as essential, so we have maintained employment levels in those areas. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our retail and tourism operations have been reduced to a level many would consider nearly non-existent.
My wife calls it a planned-demic because of the minimal scientific evidence and excessive fear that has been promulgated by the media. We see individuals driving alone in cars wearing masks with their windows closed on sunny days. We see young healthy children cowering off to the side of trails as they pass other healthy young children. We hear teachers telling our kids that they will not be going back to school in the fall because it’s not safe for the children to be near each other at school. We see government workers on full-pay, extended leave while small businesses are forced out of business. We see small family businesses with little chance of survival if the closure extends through this fall.
We don’t anticipate a decrease in the false hysteria before the November election cycle is over. So, I’d like to share a very real concern that is prominent in conversations among fellow business owners. Are we vulnerable to individual lawsuits or class action lawsuits by our employees and/or customers?
While we understand the real threat that is the COVID-19 virus, the heightened fear and the litigious nature of the American legal system will cause businesses, especially small to medium-sized businesses, to be reluctant to fully re-open. Those that are open for business will be fearful to express the open, friendly, quality of service that Alaskans have always been known for. These litigation concerns will very likely exacerbate the already difficult situation that Alaska’s businesses currently find themselves in. The common threads in our conversations are, if we meet all the federal, state, and local protocols in regards COVID-19, are we protected from litigation? If the standards differ, which do we follow? Is our current liability insurance sufficient?
What we need is a form of Business Liability Protection specifically addressing COVID-19.
We are aware of other states which have already passed and some that are working on legislation that will either protect businesses directly or at least mitigate the fears of being liable. This is especially relevant if the current standards are altered by authorities. Business owners are not looking to receive a “get out of jail free card” if we’re intentionally negligent. What we are looking for is the confidence to be in business, again! Alaska cannot wait to be bailed out by the feds.
“Alaska needs Alaskans to grow Alaska back to prosperity.”
DAVID C. SPOKELY