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Florida Legislation Watch: Business Liability for COVID-19

UPDATE as of January 26, 2021

Following up on our previous article on the topic:  both the Florida House and the Senate have each now filed a bill to provide liability protections for individuals, businesses, churches and schools. The legislation seeks to provide liability protection for businesses or organizations who acted in good faith through the pandemic, following then current guidelines and data. Florida TaxWatch reports that Florida is third nationally in COVID-19 lawsuits, following only New York and California. TaxWatch estimates that the economic impact of such suits could results in the closure of many small businesses and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs statewide.

House Bill 7 can be read in its entirety here (don’t worry, it’s only 7 pages):

Florida House Bill 7 (2021)

HB 7 has already moved through its first subcommittee, Civil Justice and Property Rights, where it received a favorable vote without amendment. The business losses to COVID-19 in 2020 are still being calculated and many businesses will not survive. In this subcommittee is notable that those speaking in favor of or showing support to the bill were Jimmy Patronis, Florida Chief Financial Officer and probusiness interests such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and regional chambers, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, and Florida Association of Realtors. The House Bill will next move on to the House Pandemics and Public Emergencies Committee and the Judiciary Committee.

Senate Bill 72 as originally filed was identical to House Bill 7. While members of the Senate Judiciary Committee proposed some substantive edits, none so far have been adopted. Senate Bill 72 was heard and approved Monday, January 25, 2021 in the Judiciary Committee. It is slated to be heard in two other committees.

The litigation seeks to:

  • Limit the time in which a plaintiff can file a COVID-19 suit.
  • Require a plaintiff to have a physician’s affidavit linking the defendant to the damages, injury or death of the plaintiff.
  • Provide liability to defendants who made a good faith effort to comply with then known and available health standards.

Both Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls have expressed support for the legislation. Expect to see this pass early in session.

Notably absent in the first versions were protections for hospitals and healthcare facilities. Protections for those groups may be coming in separate bills or amendments, which will have to be reconciled between the two houses before the close of session.

Florida legislature will continue in their Committee Weeks through February, and Regular Session starts in March. Lacey Lyons Rezanka attorneys will be closely watching this and other issues that could affect their clients.  Check back for updates on this and other legislation.

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