Assemblyman (Patrick) O’Donnell should be ashamed of himself. His school district liability waiver bill, AB 1384, forces families, not negligent school districts, to bear the cost of harms caused by COVID-19.
In the American civil justice system, people, corporations and governments are responsible for the harms that they cause, even if they did not intend to do so (negligence liability). Negligence liability is good public policy. It gives the innocent the opportunity to recover monetarily from those who have harmed them. Negligence liability is also deeply-rooted in our legal tradition, dating back to the common law of England.
AB 1384 flips this public policy upside down. Under this bill, children and their parents who are harmed by a school district’s negligent response to COVID-19 simply will have to bear the burden on their own. Medical bills, lost wages and the pain and suffering endured by a COVID-19 infection will all fall on the innocent family. Poor families in California are already bearing the brunt of the burden of COVID-19. They are the essential employees stocking our grocery stores, delivering our goods and staffing our hospitals. They also are far more likely to have lower-quality health insurance or none at all. They should not now also bear the cost of a school district’s negligence.
Because negligence liability is such good public policy, it is very rare to find waivers of this basic approach in California statutes. Assemblyman O’Donnell has not come close to showing that a liability waiver is an appropriate response to this epidemic. Instead of pushing the harm of COVID-19 downhill onto the victims who can least afford it, the Legislature should be passing the cost uphill, onto the State of California. Since we Californians seem to be incapable of controlling ourselves and getting the epidemic under control, we Californians as a whole should be the ones bearing the costs suffered by the epidemic’s victims.
On this point, the Grunion printed a flat lie from Mr. O’Donnell in its July 4 article on AB 1384. He stated, according to your article, that the bill will “indemnify” school districts. Under the law, an indemnity exists when a third party steps up to pay for the harms of another. Indemnification of school districts by the state of California is exactly what is needed here. But AB 1384 does not do this. The bill simply waives the school district’s liability.
Mr. O’Donnell compounds his contempt for poor families with contempt for the judicial system. In his June 29 press release, he writes: “We cannot ... let schools become cash cows for lawyers.” As the assemblyman well knows, lawyers for victims of negligence only get paid when a jury agrees that the victim has suffered harm. Where is the concern for the victims of COVID-19 in the Assemblyman’s press release? Where is the respect for attorneys who take on the difficult task of representing the victims of government negligence? Nowhere. Apparently the very concept of the jury system determining and awarding compensation for negligence is now unacceptable to him.
Trashing the lives of poor families and smearing lawyers for the victims of negligence are classic tactics of the Republican Party. Right now, President Trump is leading the attack on the Affordable Care Act and Senator Mitch McConnel is trying to get his own liability waiver for private employers through Congress. If Assemblyman O’Donnell wishes to be a Republican, he should change party affiliation and give Long Beach Democrats an open road to elect a representative who reflects our values in the next election cycle. If not, he should throw AB 1384 in the trash and recommit to representing the values of the California Democratic Party.
City councils wield a great deal of political power in California. I call on Suzie Price (my councilwoman) and the entire City Council to pass a resolution condemning AB 1384. Taxpayers, not innocent victims, should bear the costs of the COVID-19 epidemic.
Francis Logan is an attorney living in Belmont Shore.