Last month, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law providing protection to healthcare workers from malpractice lawsuits alleging death or injury related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Small business owners are now asking for the same protections.

"These small businesses were shut down through no fault of their own, and as they commit to bringing employees back from unemployment and to helping rebuild the New Jersey economy, they shouldn't face losing everything due to an unjustified lawsuit," said Eileen Kean, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

Kean envisions a scenario in which once a restaurant is allowed to start serving sit-down meals, a customer claims they were exposed to the virus at the eatery.

A worker could also get tested and receive a false negative result. If a customer catches wind of this and claims to come down with COVID-19 a well, that could open the door to a lawsuit, she said.

Kean said some of these unjustified lawsuits could very well wipe out a small business.

The NFIB is advocating for legislation that protects businesses from lawsuits other than those alleging gross negligence. With frivolous lawsuits, all fees should be waived for businesses defending those claims.

Kean said New Jersey has the workers' compensation system that protects an employee who gets injured on the job. That system should be the exclusive way to resolve claims of work-related infection, she said.

But Kean said the NFIB recognizes that there are things a small business should do to protect the public. They need to follow CDC guidelines and recommendations as well as guidelines from the state Department of Health.

If an establishment is making decisions to protect the public, such as putting up plastic shields between the cashier and the customer, then they should be protected from a lawsuit, Kean said.

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