Florida Enacts COVID-19 Liability Shield
Florida businesses have a new defense against COVID-19 lawsuits, thanks to SB 72, a bill that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law on Monday, March 29. This new law grants liability protection to a number of entities, including corporations, hospitals, schools, government agencies, churches, and nursing homes.
What a Liability Shield Is
There are many different types of liability shields. Corporate liability shields, for example, protect owners and other stakeholders from being personally responsible for company debt and other obligations. Youth groups use waivers, permission slips, and other varieties of liability shields to protect themselves from lawsuits if participants are injured. As for a COVID-19 liability shield, it sets limits on the responsibility that schools, healthcare facilities, and other businesses have for injury, death, or property damage linked to COVID-19 exposure.
What the Law Requires
Under this new law, if plaintiffs want to file suit against a business claiming that COVID-19 exposure caused them harm, they must prove that the defendant deliberately ignored healthy and safety guidelines. Plaintiffs would also be required to provide signed medical affidavits, stating with a high level of certainty that the harm caused by COVID-19 was a direct result of the defendant’s deficiencies or actions. Essentially, physicians would have to vouch for their patients and support their claims of gross negligence. The law sets a high bar, clearly placing the burden of proof with the plaintiffs to show the business did not make a good faith effort to comply with safety regulations. If the plaintiffs fail to prove the lack of good faith effort, the defendant is immune from civil liability.
Since the pandemic began, some lawmakers have debated a federal liability shield, but such a protection was not included in recent relief bills. Therefore, some states such as Georgia, Ohio, and Wisconsin have passed their own COVID-19 liability laws. Florida is the most populated state to have done so.
By and large, Republicans supported the bill, arguing that Florida businesses worked diligently to follow guidelines, even during the confusing early weeks of the pandemic. Democrats voiced concern that the law will prevent victims of coronavirus safety failures from having their day in court.
The new law “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.”
Prior to the governor’s signing, the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 83-31. It went into effect immediately and is retroactive to the start of the pandemic. There is a one-year deadline for plaintiffs to file claims from the date of their injuries or the date that the liability shield became law.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.