Plain Talk: Can businesses be sued for trying to be good Samaritans during the coronavirus pandemic?

PHOTO: Coronavirus protester bismarck
Kolette Kramer, of Towner, holds a sign at a protest asking Gov. Doug Burgum to allow businesses to reopen on Monday, April 20, 2020. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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Both North Dakota and the nation are grappling with the task of returning our society to some semblance of normal while still keeping in place appropriate measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

On this episode of Plain Talk, Arik Spencer from the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce talks about some protections his organization feels business owners need to help them get back to employing their employees and serving the public.

He noted that many businesses, like restaurants as one example, are afraid to re-open out of fear they'll be liable if an outbreak of coronavirus happens in one of their facilities. Similarly, businesses that shifted their work over to producing things needed during the pandemic -- breweries, for instance, which started making hand sanitizer -- are worried they could be sued if those products, which they don't typically produce, were faulty.

"Can they be sued for trying to be a good Samaritan?" Spencer asked.


What he'd like to see is legislation, preferably at the federal level but also at the state level if need be, which would protect businesses that acted in good faith from liability.

Spencer says he's heard from some of his members in North Dakota that law firms are advertising looking for clients who feel they were impacted by coronavirus. A law making it clear that businesses which followed the government's guidelines are protected from liability would help our state, and the nation, get back to work.

"Let's not inhibit them anymore. Let's get people back to work," Spencer said.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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