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Americans could sue China for coronavirus damages under proposed Cotton, Crenshaw bill

At Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego, nurses, wearing personal protective equipment, treat a patient diagnosed with COVID-19 in an isolation room of the Emergency Department on March 26, 2020. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)
April 20, 2020

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton and Rep. Dan Crenshaw collaborated on a new Senate bill last week that would allow Americans to sue China for damages caused by the coronavirus crisis.

A joint statement released by both Cotton and Crenshaw’s offices on Thursday said the lawmakers worked together on the bill as a means of holding China accountable for mishandling the early coronavirus outbreak and suppressing information that could have helped other countries prepare and stop the spread of the disease.

The proposed Senate bill would amend the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which defines when foreign governments are immune from lawsuits, to allow lawsuits for death, injury and economic damage as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We need to hold the Chinese government accountable for their malicious lies and coverup that allowed the coronavirus to spread across the world,” Crenshaw said. “The communist regime expelled journalists, silenced whistleblowers, and withheld vital information that delayed the global response to the pandemic. Simply put: their actions cost American lives and livelihoods. This bill will help ensure China’s actions are not without consequences.”

Crenshaw’s comments reference expansive reports that China knew about the coronavirus since December, but suppressed and destroyed early information and detained and punished whistleblowers who raised concerns about the virus early on.

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“By silencing doctors and journalists who tried to warn the world about the coronavirus, the Chinese Communist Party allowed the virus to spread quickly around the globe,” Cotton said. “Their decision to cover up the virus led to thousands of needless deaths and untold economic harm. It’s only appropriate that we hold the Chinese government accountable for the damage it has caused

To date, the number of coronavirus cases within the U.S. has surpassed 760,000 with more than 40,000 reported dead as a result of the disease, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus case tracking map. More than 2.4 million cases have emerged worldwide in 185 countries, with more than 166,000 deaths.

“If the United States and China come to an agreement to settle the claims, then the private suits could be dismissed,” Crenshaw and Cotton’s combined statement reads. “In other words, China can take responsibility and agree to pay for the damage it has caused, or it can face potentially millions of claims in federal court.”

Along with suppressing early information about the coronavirus, China has also been accused of hoarding personal protective equipment (PPE) like face masks. The Chinese government has also been accused of blocking U.S. multinational PPE manufacturers with factories in China from exporting their products to the U.S.

The bill is modeled after the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which was created with the intention of allowing the victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue the Saudi government for alleged connections to the terrorists involved in the attack. That bill passed in 2016 by a Senate vote of 97-1 and a House vote of 348-77, with lawmakers later voting to override then-President Barrack Obama’s veto attempt.