Houston-area lawyer gives small-business owners advice on coronavirus-related lawsuits

Houston-based lawyer Phil Griffis said small-business owners need to prepare themselves for potential coronavirus-related litigation. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Houston-based lawyer Phil Griffis said small-business owners need to prepare themselves for potential coronavirus-related litigation. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Houston-based lawyer Phil Griffis said small-business owners need to prepare themselves for potential coronavirus-related litigation. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Small-business owners need to brace themselves for the aftereffects of the coronavirus pandemic when it comes to litigation, according to the president of a law office in Nassau Bay.

Phil Griffis, president of the Law Office of Phil Griffis, was one of several panelists at a May 14 webinar hosted by Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership. He spoke of the various reasons for which employees and customers alike could file coronavirus-related lawsuits against a business: A worker could sue for something related to debts, contractual obligations or workers' compensation, and a customer could file a class-action lawsuit claiming to have contracted the coronavirus at a business’s physical location.

Griffis said any business owner who may think they are too small to be targeted by lawsuits must change their attitude, as no business is immune.

“With all due respect, you’re wrong,” Griffis said, adding it is possible to prove in court whether someone caught the virus from a specific business. “Businesses will be the targets of lawsuits and, frankly, many of them could be legitimate.”

Griffis advised owners to be proactive and use the pandemic as an opportunity to cement business relationships. Some businesspeople have taken to signing business standstill agreements, in which one party agrees to not sue over a debt in return for something in exchange from the payee.

The agreements give business owners a way in writing to say “I can’t pay you, but I care about you,” Griffis said during the webinar. This could mean the payee makes reduced payments, or it could mean other forms of assistance such as hosting seminars, providing referrals or giving good reviews.

“You can get as creative with these things as your imagination allows,” Griffis said of the agreements.

Business owners need to take coronavirus-related lawsuits seriously, as no lawsuit immunity measures have been announced at the state or federal level, Griffis said. However, he added the courts will likely be overwhelmed with business lawsuits for the next several years, making it “very, very difficult” to get a case to trial.

“Keep yourself out of the courtroom and focus on ... preserving your sanity,” Griffis said.

By Colleen Ferguson
A native central New Yorker, Colleen Ferguson worked as an editorial intern with the Cy-Fair and Lake Houston | Humble | Kingwood editions of Community Impact before joining the Bay Area team in 2020. Colleen graduated from Syracuse University in 2019, where she worked for the campus's independent student newspaper The Daily Orange, with a degree in Newspaper and Online Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a degree in Spanish language and culture. Colleen previously interned with The Journal News/lohud, where she covered the commute in the greater New York City area.



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