A bill, Senate Bill 72, intended to protect businesses and health care providers from lawsuits related to the coronavirus pandemic was passed today by a vote of the Florida House 83 to 31 and is headed to the Governor’s office to be signed into law.
The bill passed the Florida Senate on March 18.
Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis said, “Florida made history today by passing vital COVID-19 liability protections for our businesses and our health care heroes. This is a huge win for Florida and a major step to get Florida’s economy back on its feet and ensure our state fully recovers from this pandemic. As my top priority this legislative session, I was proud to travel the state fighting for these critical protections. No doubt, this is the single most important piece of legislation that unifies families in our state and a huge milestone for businesses and health care workers who no longer have to live in fear of COVID-19 litigation. By passing this legislation, Tallahassee has shown tremendous leadership and given businesses the confidence they have needed to keep their doors open and serve their communities.
The Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) was also quick to praise the bill’s passage.
“This was the most pressing issue for businesses … as it could impact every industry and every business, large or small, throughout Florida. It’s clear the Florida Legislature, under the leadership of Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, recognized this threat and we commend the swift action they took to protect Florida businesses. Now, with this legislation, Florida businesses can predict their COVID-19-related litigation risks, remain viable, and continue to contribute to the state’s economic recovery and well-being,” said AIF President & CEO Tom Feeney.
He continued, “Overall, Florida’s businesses community admirably responded to the pandemic, often implementing rigorous proactive measures to ensure the safety of employees and customers alike, all in an effort to protect the economy, get people back to work and provide essential goods and services. But by simply continuing to operate, these businesses ran the risk of potentially facing a multitude of opportunistic lawsuits that would add to their financial hardships.”
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.
During the debate today, Representative Ben Diamond (D- St. Pete) said he was concerned about the “staggering breadth” of a defense that would be given to nursing homes. Representative Joseph Geller (D-Broward/Miami Dade) said the bill could take away the right to trial by jury.
But Representative Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, closed debate saying, the legislation is “critical to the future of Florida.”