The COVID Liability Protection bill recently passed by the Florida House and Senate was signed into law today by Governor Ron DeSantis. It goes into effective immediately.
House Speaker Chris Sprowles called it the “most aggressive COVID Liability protection bill in the United States of America.
“If you are doing the right things, you are protected and you have the most aggressive protection in America. And if you’re doing the wrong thing, there’s a way for people to get there, too,” he said.
The governor said today it was a top priority to provide certainty for businesses and healthcare providers, “We don’t want to be in a situation where people are scared of being sued just for doing normal things.”
As it relates to businesses, 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.
As it relates to health care providers, the bill requires a plaintiff who files a COVID-19-related lawsuit to prove that a health care provider’s conduct constituted gross negligence or intentional misconduct. The protections apply specifically to acts or omissions made in reliance upon government-issued health standards or guidance relating to COVID-19. Under the bill, a health care provider has strong liability protections when the provider substantially follows authoritative or applicable government-issued heath standards or guidance related to COVID-19. The provider is also entitled to strong liability protections when interpreting or applying the standards or guidance with respect to the provision of health care or related services, or lack thereof, or the allocation of scarce resources or assistance with daily living.
President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) Carol Dover said, “Our hotels, restaurants, and suppliers join other businesses across Florida in breathing a collective sigh of relief that they can continue to safely operate and welcome their guests without fear of nuisance litigation.”
“Confidence is essential to our pandemic recovery,” said Lisa Lombardo, Chief People and Culture Officer for HDG Hotels. “Governor DeSantis’ signing of the COVID liability acknowledges all that our industry has put into effect to protect our team members and guests, while also allowing for measures to be taken if there is a harmful gap in a business’s practices. Today, our Governor stood by business owners without compromising constituents’ welfare. This is a tremendous confidence boost for all stakeholders: business owners, consumers, visitors – all of us in Florida.”
While some supporters are breathing a sigh of relief others worry the legislation doesn’t go far enough. Attorney Angela de Cespedes, with Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr of Miami, warned in an interview with The Capitolist this legislation might actually provide a roadmap for personal injury and wrongful death attorneys on how to successfully prosecute these claims.
Critics, including Democrats, labor unions, consumer advocates, and trial lawyers think it goes too far and say existing law already contains barriers to protect medical providers and businesses from frivolous lawsuits.
“We don’t have a flood of litigation,” Florida Justice Association secretary Steve Cain offered comments to several committees in the process. “This is not a problem, this a solution in search of a problem.”
Orlando superlawyer John Morgan goes even further. He has ripped efforts to limit liability, especially among nursing homes, which he says don’t deserve any liability protections.
“Covid swept this country because nursing homes are filthy murder factories and have been for years,” Morgan wrote in sharply-worded email to The Capitolist. “Half of all COVID deaths occurred there. So yeah, let’s give them immunity to keep killing our parents and grandparents. Sounds like a worthy project for the chamber of commerce.”