A little more than a year after COVID-19 began wrecking the economy and infecting and killing Floridians, state lawmakers on Friday gave final approval to a bill that will shield from coronavirus-related lawsuits businesses ranging from nursing homes to grocery stores to restaurants.
The measure, which the House passed in an 83-31 vote, was a top priority for politically powerful business groups that had been pushing for the legal protections since the pandemic began in spring 2020. The Senate passed the bill (SB 72) last week, meaning it is now ready for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature.
The House vote came following limited debate at the tail end of a lengthy floor session dedicated primarily to a contentious measure about cracking down on violent protests.
But supporters of the legislation (SB 72) contended that shielding businesses from lawsuits related to COVID-19 was needed as the state continues to recover during the pandemic.
“The future of Florida depends on the ability of our businesses and health care providers to stay in business,” said Rep. Colleen Burton, a Lakeland Republican who was a primary sponsor of the bill.
But Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said the bill would protect corporations more than people and pointed out it offers no protections for front-line workers who contracted the virus while on the job. Employees are required to use the workers’ compensation insurance system for on-the-job injuries, but claims often are getting denied.
Eskamani said she’s concerned the bill would make it more difficult to seek what she called a “judicial pathway to justice.”
“We don’t always have to be so one-sided or focus on a zero-sum game to solve some of these problems. In fact, members, all boats can rise together,” Eskamani said.
She added that, “we do have policy solutions to support the business community and to support our workers. Not everybody actually has to lose something to gain something.”
The bill would establish new rules in personal injury lawsuits related to COVID-19. For example, people who file personal injury lawsuits that don’t allege medical malpractice or violations of nursing-home resident rights must first get state-licensed physicians to sign affidavits that the defendants caused the injuries or damages. Additionally, business owners would be immune from liability if courts determine they made good-faith efforts to substantially comply with government-issued health standards or guidance.
Associated Industries of Florida President and CEO Tom Feeney said in a statement that the legislation was “the most pressing issue” for businesses that worked on a task force about reopening the state’s economy during the pandemic.
“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 Feeney, a former House speaker.
In pursuing COVID-19 medical malpractice claims or nursing home-related claims, people filing lawsuits would not need to obtain physician affidavits. But they would be required to prove that the health care providers’ actions were grossly negligent, which is a higher legal threshold than normal. Health care providers that substantially complied with authoritative or applicable government-issued health standards or guidance related to COVID-19 would also have immunity.
“I think this provides doctors the appropriate level of protection for having done the right thing,” said Chris Nuland, a Jacksonville attorney who lobbies for physician organizations.
Physicians were the first to push for the lawsuit protections, asking DeSantis in March 2020 for an executive order to limit liability. The Florida Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, and the Florida Hospital Association followed with similar requests asking for protections from civil and criminal lawsuits.
DeSantis, who is an attorney, never responded to the requests. Still, DeSantis in recent months has publicly supported protections, especially for nursing homes, which were closed to outside visitors for nearly six months to try to prevent the spread of the virus.
DeSantis maintains that a fear of lawsuits has made nursing home operators afraid to reopen their doors to visitors.
In a statement, Florida Health Care Association CEO Emmett Reed said the bill will ensure nursing homes can “continue to direct their limited resources where they’re needed most — caring for residents and supporting staff.“
Reed also encouraged DeSantis to “sign this crucial legislation quickly so our long term care facilities can remain focused on delivering the high-quality care our state’s seniors depend on.”
–Christine Sexton, News Service of Florida
Are you referring to the picture of the employee who appears to not be wearing a mask withe the caption “The restaurant is protected. The waitress is not. (© FlaglerLive)” I feel that if business owners have followed state guidelines regarding Covid safety measures, and make every effort to make sure employees and especially patrons (who are contactly in the news about ignoring business Covid rules) comply with the rules, they should not be liable for the actions and failure to comply with regulations by others, I have never seen a person or group of people not wearing masks being approached by law enforcement as asked to comply with state guidelines. I have not heard of someone attending a wedding, birthday party, etc, and becoming infected with Covid suing the family member or host of the function where there Covid infection was traced to. People make their own choices, then want to sue someone else for the result of those choices. Take responsibility for ur own actions!
Profits over people as usual in Flori-DUH
After 5 trillion in stimulus liberals want more. They alway want other peoples money, never satisfied.
Ray W. says
The mathematical equivalent to illiteracy is innumeracy, though a person can be highly literate and still be innumerate. I suspect Juan is innumerate. Lacking the basic understanding of numbers, he just rounds one up and throws the new number out. Then, he condemns a broad range of people, arguably the largest group of people in the country. A significant number of conservatives voted for the first $2 trillion stimulus package (Senate passed it 96-0), so it is hard to lay the blame on liberals for that one. In a good, better, best/bad, worse, worst scenario, Juan gets a bad. We have all seen worse arguments, and Juan’s is certainly not the worst to grace these pages, but it would take a real hard twist of reality to give Juan a good argument grade. I will give Juan credit for understanding that liberals are not socialists, as those are two different political philosophies. We are all allowed to wander through life fooling ourselves.
Enjoy Life says
STOP your whining !!! The rest of us are sick and tired of listen to you bitch & moan about every little thing. If you are worried about catching Covid-19…or is it Covid-20 now , stay HOME. STAY HOME in a BOX and ROT .
Michael Cocchiola says
The truth is that for Florida businesses, whether in the sports and entertainment industries, the travel industry, and bars and restaurants, those that work and those who consume the services are pure cannon fodder. The risk is yours the profit is theirs. Your illness and death mean nothing. Someone behind you will take your place. That’s the Republican business model. It’s cruel, even inhumane but it is the GQP’s vision of America.
How long are we going to take this from the DeSantis’ of the world? How long are we going to accept the abuse?
So based on you’re comment, “”That’s the Republican business model.” there are NO Democratic businesses operating right now. Only republican businesses are operating in this cruel and inhumane way. You need to get out more. Lots of Democratic businesses are owned and open by Democrats, with employees in each party so they must also be cruel and inhumane.
YEAH yeah and the Trumplicans Pre Stimmy raised the Deficit faster than any other Administration so what’s your point
Proud Floridiam says
Thank goodness we live in Florida where common sense prevails!
Keep voting for Republicans who hate workers and who bow down to the corporate $$. This is what you get along with $7.50 an hour pay.
@The usual floriduh and flaggullur suspects cheer for ron “baby batista” deadsantis
And so it goes…
The stupidity of Fla never ceases to amaze me. The businesses basically forcing their people to work in areas not following CDC guidelines, and a worker gets covid and you are SOL. Its either work or we will find someone else attitude.
Governor DeSantis doesn’t care about the citizens health in Florida, he just cares about corporate money and probably those that donate to him, that is all he cares about.
He will sign the bill as soon as it hits his desk. People will remember him when he is up for re-election.
@Juan. . . if you cash that government check, you are a complete hypocrite!
Even the majority of Republican voters polled were in favor of those checks, although not one Republican Congressperson voted for the last rescue package. Millions continue to rely on that money to keep them afloat during this terrible pandemic that has killed over 500,000 US citizens alone. This relief is not a Liberal thing, or especially not a Republican thing. It is a “do the right thing” for human beings in the USA thing.
If human compassion and love of your fellow human beings is not your thing, perhaps you are living in an alternate reality composed of fear and hate. If so, how very terrible for you, Juan!
Stay safe and healthy everyone!
I think if a person dies in the care of a nursing home and the business failed to follow Covid guidelines, and a lawsuit took place and there is proof that negligence I would bet they State Supreme court would rule in favor of the family and not the nursing home and kick this Gov law to the curb. .