Industry leaders across the state are applauding the signing of a COVID-19 liability bill that will safeguard businesses, schools, frontline healthcare workers, and other entities from liability related to the pandemic.
On Monday, Governor Ron DeSantis signed the legislation (SB 72) into law, checking off one component of his three-tiered agenda for the 2021 Legislative Session. The measure provides protections for all persons, including businesses, charities, educational institutions, and others against a COVID-19-related claim, and 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.
The bill also protects healthcare providers, requiring 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 passage and swift signature mark the first big victory for Republicans who made shielding Floridians from trial lawyers seeking to profit from the pandemic a top priority this session. The signing was also a big win for industry leaders seeking to prevent frivolous lawsuits on businesses as many continue to recover from the fallout of the virus.
One of the biggest advocates of expanding liability protections, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis praised the legislation, calling it one of the most important proposals in 2021 legislative cycle.
“I was proud to stand with Governor Ron DeSantis today as he signed vital COVID-19 liability protections into Florida law to protect our businesses, job creators, 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,” said Patronis. “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 frivolous COVID-19 litigation. By passing this significant legislation, the Governor and Legislature has stepped up to give businesses the confidence they have needed to keep their doors open and continue to serve their communities.”
The Florida Chamber of Commerce, who also pushed to protect Florida’s lifeblood, said the measure will allow institutions to continue to recover from the coronavirus without fear of being sued by bad actors.
“The Florida Chamber thanks Governor DeSantis for his leadership in protecting Florida’s business community and appreciates the priority that has been placed on these protections for Florida’s job creators. COVID-19 liability protections for Florida’s job creators has been a top priority for the Florida Chamber since day one of the global pandemic, said Florida Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson. “With today’s signing of SB 72 by Governor DeSantis, Florida’s businesses and health care facilities who continue to do their best to keep employees, customers and patients safe will no longer have to fear frivolous lawsuits as they continue relaunching Florida’s economy.”
The Florida Council of 100, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of business leaders, called the bill a standard by which other states and leaders could adopt.
“By signing this COVID-19 Liability Protections bill into law, Governor DeSantis, along with leaders in the Florida House and Senate are continuing to demonstrate leadership and rise above the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Syd Kitson, Chair of the Florida Council of 100. “This law provides clarity to employers, healthcare providers, customers and patients on the needed legal protections during this pandemic. The Florida Council of 100 thanks the Governor, the Speaker and the Senate President for listening to the needs of the state’s businesses and frontline health care workers.”
“Florida’s elected leaders continue to take actions to boost Florida’s economy and enhance its business and consumer-friendly climate,” said Rhea Law, Chair of the Economic Competitiveness Committee for the Florida Council of 100. “By signing this bill into law, Florida has once again acted decisively and demonstrated to the rest of the nation that states can protect consumers and allow the economy to continue to prosper. As a result, Florida is attracting entrepreneurs and companies from other states. Although COVID-19 continues to present public health and economic challenges, Florida is well-positioned to come through this stronger than ever.
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), the nation’s leading small business advocacy organization, voiced its approval for SB 72, saying it prevents “predatory trial lawyers” from preying on Florida consumers.
“Our members want to thank Governor DeSantis for signing SB 72 and protecting Florida’s small businesses against predatory trial lawyers looking to exploit the pandemic, said NFIB State Director Bill Herrle. Florida’s small businesses are focused on protecting their customers and employees and getting through this economic crisis. The cost of defending themselves against just one COVID-19 lawsuit could put them out of business for good.”
The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA), a nonprofit hospitality association that was severely devastated by the pandemic, also weighed in, saying the bill will help its industry get back on its feet after being dealt a heavy blow in 2020.
“On behalf of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, our 10,000 members, and the statewide hospitality industry, we applaud Governor Ron DeSantis for signing this critical legislation to protect Florida businesses,” said Carol Dover, President and CEO of FRLA. “I also want to thank House Speaker Sprowls, Senate President Simpson, and the bill sponsors Senator Jeff Brandes and Representative Lawrence McClure, as well as CFO Patronis who has championed COVID-19 protections for our industry. 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.”
The legislation was the first bill to go to the Governor during the 60-day session and is set to go into effect immediately.