Florida Sends COVID-19 Liability Protection Bill to Governor

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida businesses, governments and healthcare providers will be protected from coronavirus lawsuits if they made a good effort to follow guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 under a bill the House sent to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday.

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

The bill “provides limited liability protection to those entities in Florida that tried day after day to do what they were told they needed to do,” said Republican Rep. Colleen Burton. “The future of Florida depends on the ability of our business and healthcare providers to stay in business.”

Democrats said the measure will deny access to the courts for people who were damaged by the disease or whose relatives died from the coronavirus. They said the language in the bill and need to prove gross negligence will make it difficult to bring a case forward.

“I get it. A once in a century pandemic. It’s not typical, it’s not business as usual, I understand that. We don’t want to allow frivolous claims,” said Democratic Rep. Joseph Geller. “Gross negligence is something that rises to the level of willful or reckless conduct _ indifference. It’s not enough that you did the wrong thing, you had to do it so egregiously, so shockingly.”

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The bill passed on a 83-31 vote.

Republicans argued that in the early days of the pandemic, there were changing theories on how the virus spread and what protocols should be taken to prevent it. They also said there were shortages of supplies like masks and other personal protective equipment.

“Who can forget the shortages of things like hand sanitizer, paper towels and toilet paper?” said Republican Rep. Will Robinson. “During the fog of this deadly COVID-19 war, our healthcare professionals and their employers stepped up and marched headfirst into this pandemic battle.”

The issue is a priority for DeSantis, who is expected to sign the bill. It will go into effect as soon as he does.

The law will apply retroactively to the beginning of the pandemic. It will set a one-year deadline for people to file claims from the time it becomes law or from the date of the injury.

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