by Pat Raia
A pair of measures introduced into the Florida legislature are aimed at protecting business in the state from unscrupulous or opportunistic lawsuits related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Filed on Jan. 6 by Florida State Senator Jeff Brandes, SB 72, the Civil Liability For Damages Relating To COVID-19 would protect business, charities, educational institutions, “governmental entities” and religious institutions from a COVID-19-related claim.
If passed, the measure would require a court to dismiss without prejudice any lawsuit bringing a COVID-19 claim if the complaint is not pled with particularity - that is if the complainant has not included specifics and details of the alleged incident not just general statements - 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,
According to the bill, claims must be brought within one year after a cause of action takes place.
A twin bill, HB 7, Civil Liability for Damages Relating to COVID-19, was introduced into the Florida House of Representatives by Rep. Lawrence McClure. That measure was referred to the House's Civil Justice and Property Rights Subcommittee.
The legal climate resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic makes the legislation necessary, said Brandes, who also serves as chairman of the Florida Senate's Judiciary Committee.
“These important protections will aid in separating the serious and meritorious claims brought against a Florida business from the claims that are unfair or inappropriate as our state continues to fully reopen and recover,” he said.
Bill Herrle, state director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) praised the proposed legislation.
“Small business owners need to know the state has their back when it comes to COVID-19 liability protection,” Herrle said. “SB 72 and HB 7 would help protect businesses that are following government-issued guidelines to protect the health and safety of their customers and employees from costly and frivolous lawsuits.”
COVID-19-related protections for health care providers are not addressed in the bill, but will be the focus of separate legislation, Brandes said.
If passed SB 72 would apply retroactively.