When pharmaceutical companies started development COVID vaccines at the very outset of this pandemic, few people questioned the wisdom of the effort. Nobody second guessed the prudence in being prepared for what could come. The work on the vaccinations we appreciate being available today was begun long before we had over twenty-eight million cases.
Where might we be today without that foresight?
If we want the economy to recover, we must take the same approach and anticipate the greatest threat to our economic recovery. Florida’s small business owners need a vaccine against COVID-driven lawsuits, and that will come in the form of COVID Liability Protection legislation. Wiser state legislators see this and, gratefully, are working on that now. Like the vaccines, it can’t come a moment too soon.
It is key to restoring small business owners’ confidence, and critical to giving small business owners a sense that the daily struggle in owning and operating a small business in a pandemic is worth it, because the government can compel a business to close, but they can’t compel a business to stay open. Since the outset of the pandemic, small business owners have been asked to make dozens of decisions every day in the interest of public health. Now, they are slowly realizing that every decision they have made in reaction to COVID is a potential lawsuit liability. They need to know that the state has their back.
Like the epidemiologists who predicted the breadth of the pandemic from early on, groups like the NFIB see the epidemic of lawsuits to follow with great clarity. No, there are not a lot of cases right now, but they are coming, you can be sure.
A single letter from a plaintiff’s lawyer demanding payment for damages stemming from a business owners decisions in managing their business operation through the pandemic is just about enough to close their doors for good. The small business sector is on precarious footing. One in five small business owners say they may not be in business in another six months if conditions do not improve.
HB 7 by State Representative Lawrence McClure and SB 72 by State Senator Jeff Brandes is the economic vaccine small business owners need. Bad actors who with clear disregard for public health standards will still be held accountable in court. The proposed legislative language says that small business owners who make a good faith effort to substantially follow public health guidelines will be afforded immunity. It’s that simple. If a business owner tried their best, they are protected. If they scoffed at public health standards, they will be held accountable.
Florida small business owners need this shot in the arm as soon as possible.
Bill Herrle is the Executive Director of NFIB Florida