The Florida Senate Committee on Judiciary, chaired by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), today passed Senate Bill 72, Civil Liability For Damages Relating To COVID-19. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Brandes, aims to shield businesses from unscrupulous or opportunistic lawsuits related to the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19-related protections for health care providers are not addressed in the bill, but will be the focus of separate legislation.
“When businesses make a good faith effort to adhere to safety guidelines to reopen during a period of extreme uncertainty, our laws should protect them and our legal system should not be a place where they face frivolous and costly litigation,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby). “Advancing this legislation early in our committee weeks sends a clear message that Florida is open for business, and we intend to keep it that way.”
“Frivolous lawsuits should not interfere with the ability of business owners and employees to earn a living and support their families,” said Senator Brandes. “Unlike other states across the nation who have cycled through multiple closures and re-openings, thankfully Governor DeSantis has made it clear that Florida is staying open, and businesses across our state are making their best efforts to comply with evolving standards in order to keep their customers safe. This legislation will create a safe harbor for Florida businesses who are struggling every day to keep their doors open during this unprecedented time.”
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.
Claims must be brought within one year after a cause of action accrues. The bill applies retroactively and takes effect upon becoming a law.