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How supporting my neighborhood has put me at risk of being sued

Thankfully, Congress can take action to provide reasonable liability protection for essential businesses.

face mask sign
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

As the owner and operator of 36 Lyn Refuel Station in Minneapolis, I have made supporting my local neighborhood a priority. This unprecedented pandemic has only strengthened our resolve to remain a resource for our community, particularly for emergency workers, who need access to fuel and food often during non-traditional hours. Unfortunately, despite following national and state orders, and putting in place extra precautions to ensure the safety of our employees and customers, we, like other essential businesses, are now at additional risk of being sued. 

Over the past 15 years, 36 Lyn Refuel Station has made it a priority to provide healthy food options to our customers, and the cheapest gas in town. We also spend a lot of time and resources to find and train outstanding employees who care about the customers we serve. Through our consistent efforts and quality of service, we have established ourselves as the go-to place for those in the neighborhood.

Once the pandemic struck, the Department of Homeland Security designated convenience stores as a part of the critical infrastructure workforce, encouraging us to maintain our work schedule and remain open. 

We rose to the challenge and took needed safety steps

And we were ready to rise to the challenge and remained committed to staying open during this crisis. We knew our community still needed us to provide food, medical supplies and other services like fuel or access to an ATM. So we took the needed steps to protect the health of our employees and customers, including conducting extra cleanings, sanitizing our store, and putting in place other safety measures like requiring our employees to wear gloves and face masks. 

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I appreciate that Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz recognized the honorable sacrifices of our front-line retail employees, issuing an executive order classifying these workers as emergency employees, which means they qualify for child care for school-age children.

We, like many other essential businesses, have faced financial as well as logistical challenges during this pandemic. Fewer people on the road means fewer customers stopping by for fuel, leading to a decrease in revenue. Despite these challenges, we have remained open and ready to serve our community. 

Concerned about unfounded suits

But now, like other essential businesses, we may face unfounded civil lawsuits because of the coronavirus pandemic. This is despite all the precautions we have taken to protect workers and customers, and after being encouraged to stay open as a part of the critical infrastructure workforce. This threat is especially disappointing because many businesses have remained open more to provide a public good than for economic reasons and are now being unfairly targeted during this crisis.

Lonnie McQuirter
Lonnie McQuirter
So far more than 2,800 coronavirus-related lawsuits have already been filed.

For any business that has acted irresponsibly, victims should have recourse to pursue legal actions. But it is unfair for businesses that have made every effort to implement safety protocols and provide necessary protections during this crisis to face unwarranted litigation. 

Essential businesses that have done the right thing during this pandemic deserve reasonable protections from frivolous lawsuits. Because if not, businesses like mine risk having to close our doors for good, adding to the already ballooning unemployment figures and depriving our community of access to critical goods, fuel and other services. 

Thankfully, Congress can take action to provide reasonable liability protection for essential businesses. And my home-state Sen. Amy Klobuchar is in a unique position to help provide these protections given her role on the Senate Judiciary Committee. I hope Klobuchar and her colleagues on the committee will show their support for essential businesses and pass common-sense liability protections.  

My business provides a safe space for the neighborhood — clean bathrooms and a place where people can stop by and ask for directions, in addition to accessing critical supplies. If Congress does not take action, we might not be able to continue providing the same support our community has come to rely on. 

Lonnie McQuirter is the owner and operator of 36 Lyn Refuel Station in Minneapolis.

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