New Florida law shields businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits

A bill aimed at protecting businesses from lawsuits related to people getting COVID-19 is now law.

Monday, Governor Ron DeSantis signed SB 72, which makes it tougher for people to take establishments to court over breaking COVID-19 rules in a way that results in someone getting sick.

DeSantis said, "We don’t want to be in a situation where people are scared of being sued just for doing normal things."

Under the law, Florida businesses, local governments, and healthcare providers will be spared from coronavirus legal action so long as they can show they made a good effort to follow guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In order for a lawsuit to move forward, a plaintiff would need to show that the defendant deliberately ignored guidelines. They’ll also need to submit a signed affidavit from a doctor stating, with reasonable certainty, that injury or death caused by COVID-19 was the result of the defendant’s actions.

Representatives from tourism-related industries say they are most at risk for such lawsuits.

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"All of our businesses need to have some form of protection from frivolous lawsuits and this is exactly what the legislature and the governor said they were going to do," Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association president and C.E.O. Carol Dover said.

John Horne of the Anna Maria Oyster Bar added, "It’ll allow us to concentrate on our guests. It’ll allow us to concentrate on cleanliness and not worry about having to respond to a frivolous lawsuit."

However, not everyone is on board. Democrats oppose the measures, arguing the law denies access to the courts for people significantly impacted by the disease and who have to go to work in places that may view themselves immune to the legal system when it comes to COVID.

"This essentially shuts the door to the courts and the justice system for those workers who were injured or God forbid killed at the job through COVID. It’s just completely unnecessary," Florida AFL-CIO Director of Politics and Public Policy Rich Templin said.

Senate Bill 72 is the first bill the governor has signed during the 60-day legislative session.

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"We're excited about being able to sign the bill. I think it's very common sense," DeSantis said.

The new law goes into effect immediately. It will apply retroactively to the beginning of the pandemic and will give plaintiffs a one-year deadline to file claims.

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