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May 27, 2020 by Samuel Boden

Will Tittabawassee Floodwaters Go Toxic?

On May 19, the National Weather Service advised people living near the Tittabawassee River in Michigan to seek higher ground immediately. The region was in the midst of what meteorologists were calling a “500-year-flood,” resulting in a catastrophic failure of the Edenville Dam. Despite years of warnings from regulators that the dam could rupture, its owners failed to make changes to reinforce the structure and increase spillway capacity. By the next day, the river had risen to a record-high 34.4 feet in the city of Midland.

Any flood of this magnitude is a tragedy, but the situation in Midland is worse: The city is home to the world headquarters of Dow Chemical Company, including a vast complex that has produced a range of toxic chemicals, including Agent Orange and mustard gas. Dow has a tarnished history in the area, responsible for contaminating the Tittabawassee River with dioxins and violating the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The area is now a Superfund site as a result.

Regulators have accused Dow of providing false information to the public, such as a newsletter stating that few negative health effects were associated with dioxin …

May 21, 2020 by Michael C. Duff
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A recent, interesting lawsuit filed against McDonald's, in Cook County, Illinois, suffers from few of the deficiencies that I have identified in prior postings about public nuisance cases related to COVID-19 (see here and here). The named employee-plaintiffs allege "negligence" in what might look at first blush like a drop-dead workers' compensation case. This time, however, there is a wrinkle: The negligence action is pursued against both franchisor-McDonalds (McDonald's USA) and certain of McDonald's franchise restaurants (McDonald's Restaurant of Illinois, Inc., Lexi Management LLC, and DAK4, LLC). One may be the employer (subject to workers' compensation liability), and the others may not (and therefore be liable in tort). Because you cannot know in advance how the question will come out, you allege negligence with respect to each defendant. This is perfectly sensible.

It will be politically …

May 20, 2020 by Darya Minovi, James Goodwin
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Earlier this week, we submitted a public comment to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), criticizing the agency's March 2020 supplemental proposal for its “censored science" rulemaking. This rule, among other things, would require the public release of underlying data for studies considered in regulatory decision-making, and thus might prevent the agency from relying on such seminal public health research as Harvard’s Six Cities study, which have formed the backbone of many of the EPA’s regulations, simply because they rely on confidential data.

First proposed during the brief and tumultuous tenure of former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the rule, officially known by its Orwellian moniker “Strengthening Transparency for Regulatory Science,” has become a key part of the Trump administration’s assault on the agency’s credibility and authority. Indeed, the arrival of this administration has seen the EPA completely abandon its mission of protecting public health …

May 20, 2020 by Alejandro Camacho, Robert Glicksman
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Much of the discussion of the Trump administration's failed handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has focused on its delayed, and then insufficiently urgent, response, as well as the President's apparent effort to talk and tweet the virus into submission. All are fair criticisms. But the bungled initial response—or lack of response—was made immeasurably worse by the administration's confused and confusing allocation of authority to perform or supervise tasks essential to reducing the virus's damaging effects. Those mistakes hold important lessons.

The administration's management of the pandemic has been hampered by misallocation of authority along three different but interacting dimensions. First, it has been marred by overlapping authority that has resulted in waste, while failing to capitalize on this overlap's potential to safeguard against shirking and inaction. Second, it has reflected a thoughtless mix of centralized and …

May 19, 2020 by Katie Tracy
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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Whistleblower Protection Program (WPP) plays a vital role in protecting workers from employers who cut corners on safety or who violate other federal laws: It protects those workers who report such abuses from retaliation, making it harder for employers to get away with breaking the law. Or at least that's how it's supposed to work. The 23 separate federal statutes the program encompasses cover a wide range of corporate wrongdoing, including violations of clean air and drinking water standards, food safety standards, workplace health and safety standards, and much more. If an employer retaliates against an employee for taking any of the actions covered by these laws, the employee may file a retaliation complaint with OSHA for investigation.

OSHA's WPP is critical for ensuring workers have safe and healthy workplaces where they can raise concerns without fear of retaliation. But …

May 18, 2020 by Darya Minovi
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In recent weeks, as a result of cramped conditions and inadequate protections, several U.S. meat plants have closed due to coronavirus outbreaks among workers. In one particularly stunning instance, a Tyson pork processing plant in Perry, Iowa, shut down after 730 workers (58 percent of the plant's workforce) tested positive. New data from Johns Hopkins University shows that the virus spreads at more than twice the national rate in counties with major meatpacking plants. The United States now faces a meat shortage, a direct result of a broken food system – one that is built to reliably feed the bottom line of industrial agriculture at the expense of public health.

Despite the chaos, federal agencies’ responses seem to favor industry over worker and consumer health. In March, the Food and Drug Administration postponed in-person inspections at factories, canneries, and poultry farms, then in April gave a number …

May 14, 2020 by Michael C. Duff
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Listening in on Tuesday's Senate Hearing on Corporate Liability During the Coronavirus Pandemic – you can find the video here and do a text search for "workers' compensation" – I was especially pleased to hear workers' compensation immunity discussed at 1:14:20 to about 1:14:50. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island specifically asked whether blanket corporate immunity would constitute subsidization of workers' compensation insurers. Witness Professor David Vladeck of Georgetown University Law Center responded that it very well could if workers' compensation were not carved out of the bill. I did not hear anyone contend during the hearing that workers' compensation could not be part of an immunity blanket, which is food for thought.

Coincidentally, I had been reading in The Atlantic as the Senate hearing was commencing an exceptionally good and sobering account of …

May 13, 2020 by Daniel Farber
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Originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Sen. Mitch McConnell is demanding that any future coronavirus relief law provide a litigation shield for businesses, and other conservative and business interests have made similar proposals. So far, the supporters of these proposals have engaged in some dramatic handwaving but haven't begun to make a reasoned argument in support of a litigation shield.

In this post, I'm going to limit myself to negligence suits against businesses. Basically, these lawsuits claim the plaintiff got the virus due to the failure of a business to take reasonable safety precautions.

Even without a business shield, these are not going to be easy cases to win. Plaintiffs will have to show that they were exposed to the virus due to the defendant's business operation, that better precautions would have prevented the exposure, and that they weren't exposed elsewhere.

Tort lawyers may be …

May 12, 2020 by James Goodwin
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Yesterday, a group of 20 Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) Board Members, Member Scholars, and staff joined a letter to House and Senate leaders calling on them to reject efforts to attach to future COVID-19 pandemic-related legislation provisions that would interfere with the ability of workers, consumers, and members of their families to hold businesses accountable when their unreasonably dangerous actions have caused workers or consumers to contract the virus. Instead, as the letter urges, lawmakers should ensure that our courthouse doors remain open to all Americans to pursue any meritorious civil justice claims for injuries they suffer arising from companies' failure to guard against the spread of the coronavirus.

The letter comes as the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to hold a hearing this afternoon on the topic of “Examining Liability During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Insulating corporations against public accountability through the courts has long been …

May 11, 2020 by John Echeverria
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Anyone following the news about the coronavirus knows about the vocal opposition by libertarians and other right-wing extremists to government measures designed to control the pandemic. On television, the coverage has focused on angry, gun-toting protesters. But there's another avenue of opposition to the virus-related safeguards, one that's less photogenic but no less divorced from reality. In recent weeks, a number of land and business owners have filed lawsuits claiming stay-at-home orders and business closings represent “takings” of private property under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. These takings claims should be – and likely will be – rejected based on firm U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

In the absence of clear direction from the Trump administration, states have been left largely to themselves to devise emergency rules designed to “flatten the curve’” of new coronavirus cases and reduce the toll of sickness and death. Most states …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
May 27, 2020

Will Tittabawassee Floodwaters Go Toxic?

May 21, 2020

Another Public Nuisance COVID Suit: Why is the McDonald's Case Different?

May 20, 2020

CPR Urges EPA to Abandon Unjustified and Harmful Censored Science Rulemaking

May 20, 2020

The Trump Administration's Pandemic Response is Structured to Fail

May 19, 2020

Testimony: Here's How OSHA Can Improve Its Whistleblower Protection Program

May 18, 2020

Virtual Town Hall Meeting to Focus on Delmarva Agricultural Pollution's Impact on Public Health

May 14, 2020

The Stimulus 'Liability' Debate: Don't Forget Texas Elective Workers' Compensation