Wisconsin Budget

Republican Wisconsin state Sen. Chris Kapenga

(The Center Square) – The latest step to reopen Wisconsin, if passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, would help keep business owners out of court. 

Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, introduced what he is calling "safe harbor" legislation that would make it clear businesses are not liable if someone becomes infected with the coronavirus after visiting their store, shop or warehouse. 

“Most entities have adapted and taken precautions over the past six months to protect both their customers and employees. These businesses should not be living in constant fear of litigation for something that is beyond their control,” Kapenga said. 

Kapenga said businesses should follow the rules when it comes to coronavirus safety, which includes requiring masks and social distancing. His legislation also would require businesses to abide by any and all local public health orders, and take what he is calling “reasonable precautions” to protect customers and workers. 

“With many businesses struggling due to the impacts of COVID-19, the threat of a frivolous lawsuit is the last thing they need while trying to rebound,” Kapenga added. 

Wisconsin’s largest business group, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, on Thursday said it agrees 100 percent. 

“There are unfortunately an increasing number of trial lawyers looking to profit off of this crisis,” said Scott Manley, WMC executive vice president of Government Relations. “Now is the time to protect all Wisconsinites from these needless and frivolous lawsuits.”

Manley said the legislation is not just for businesses in the state. 

“[It] would protect homeowners, non-profits, schools, universities and any other premises, including outdoor events and festivals,” Manley said. 

Kapenga says over a dozen other states have passed similar laws. 

His proposal will have to wait, however. Wisconsin lawmakers have headed home for the year, and have been reluctant to come back to the State Capitol to deal with anything more than a committee hearing or public meeting since March. 


The Center Square Correspondent

An industry veteran with two decades of experience in media, Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square.