The leadership of the Florida Legislature is getting behind a proposal to help protect businesses from lawsuits resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the Florida House, state Rep. Lawrence McClure, R-Dover, filed a bill on Wednesday which will offer “general liability protection for Florida businesses, schools, nonprofits and religious institutions making a good-faith effort to follow established federal, state and local guidelines” and its “liability protections apply retroactively to any newly filed lawsuit.”
The bill will be before the House Civil Justice and Property Rights Subcommittee next week.
“A small-restaurant owner shouldn’t have to worry about making payroll because a predatory actor seized on an opportunity to sue and settle,” said McClure. “HB 7 does what 21 other states across the country have done already, and it does it better.”
The bill has the support of House leadership.
“Florida businesses and organizations that do the right thing should not fear being drowned by massive litigation costs,” said House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. “We are fast-tracking this COVID-19 liability protection bill to ensure that there is no potential for unscrupulous litigation to threaten Florida’s economic recovery. Ours is the most aggressive liability protection bill in the nation.”
Sprowls also promised to support a bill to “address COVID liability protections for health care providers and facilities, including nursing homes and long-term care facilities.”
“Florida’s health care providers have other considerations and risks that deserve greater discussion and evaluation,” said Sprowls. “We owe it to them and the vulnerable populations they serve to be heard before we address their concerns with another bill.”
Over in the Senate, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, filed the companion bill on Wednesday.
“The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has created an uncertain legal climate for Florida businesses, which could result in serious and ongoing economic challenges for our entire state,” said Brandes. “These important protections will aid in separating the serious and meritorious claims brought against a Florida business from the claims that are unfair or inappropriate as our state continues to fully reopen and recover.”
Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Tribly, and the chamber’s leadership are behind the bill.
“Businesses across Florida have suffered greatly over the last several months and are doing the best they can to safely reopen during a period of extreme uncertainty,” said Simpson. “When a business makes a good faith effort to adhere to safety guidelines, our laws should provide strong protections.
“Speaker Sprowls and our House colleagues have been tremendous partners in crafting the important protections for our businesses contained in this legislation. As we move forward, we are continuing to work together on additional legislation to ensure protections for the health care providers who have been on the front lines of this pandemic from day one,” continued Simpson.
The Senate president’s office offered more details on the proposal.
“The legislation provides protections for all persons, including businesses, charities, educational institutions, and others against a COVID-19-related claim. Specifically, the bill requires a court to dismiss without prejudice any lawsuit bringing a COVID-19-related claim if the complaint is not pled with particularity, or if the person filing the lawsuit failed to provide an affidavit of a physician attesting that the defendant caused the plaintiff’s injuries or damages. If the court determines that the defendant made a good faith effort to substantially comply with government-issued health standards or guidance, the defendant is immune from liability,” Simpson’s office noted.
“Claims must be brought within one year after a cause of action accrues. The bill applies retroactively and takes effect upon becoming a law. COVID-19-related protections for health care providers are not addressed in the bill, but will be the focus of separate legislation,” Simpson’s office added.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org.