Florida recently passed CS/SB 72, Liability for Damages Relating to COVID-19, which will ultimately protect businesses, medical facilities, and nursing homes from COVID liability lawuits. With this legislation in place, it will now be much harder to sue for claims that are linked to COVID-19 and repercussions from the pandemic. With a raised legal standard and an ability to proclaim government-issued safety guidelines were followed, defendants will be able to receive immunity from such lawsuits.
WHAT ARE THE MAJOR EFFECTS OF THE BILL?
The Florida Justice Association reports the following eight major effects of the bill:
- The terms of this bill only apply to civil action taken after the effective date.
- This covers any claim regarding civil liability that came from COVID-19. This includes medical malpractice, nursing home claims, and business claims.
- This requires additional procedures for COVID-19-related claims.
- This requires a physician affidavit to be provided. The affidavit would have to attest “within a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that the plaintiff’s COVID-19-related damages, injury, or death occurred as a result of the defendant’s acts or omissions.”
- The Statute of Limitations is reduced to just one year from the effective date.
- This provides immunity for non-healthcare claims once the defendant proves he or she substantially complied with the government-issued safety guidelines. Educational facilities, religious institutions, and businesses are immune if they can prove they made “a good faith effort to substantially comply with authoritative or controlling government-issued health standards or guidance at the time the cause of action accrued.”
- The plaintiff must now prove gross negligence for a COVID-19 business-related claim.
- The plaintiff must now prove gross negligence for a COVID-19 healthcare-related claim.
WHAT DO THE PROPONENTS OF THE BILL SAY?
As the state continues to recover from the pandemic, job loss also continues to be a major threat to Florida residents. Proponents of the bill argue that this is the best way to put an end to unnecessary lawsuits. Representative Tom Leek, R-Ormand Beach, explained, “If you want to get back to work, you have to have a job to go to. Responsible businesses have to be able to reopen safely without the fear of getting sued.”
Cruise lines in Florida have been sued by employees and customers due to an alleged lack of protection against the virus. Another source of lawsuits in the state have been at jails where individuals claim infected inmates have been placed with healthy inmates. In terms of business, many people have sued businesses that have not required employees or customers to wear masks. Publix faced a lawsuit last year when Gerardo Gutierrez, a deli worker in Miami Beach, died from COVID-19 after he asked to wear a mask. His family claims Publix refused to allow him that protection.
WHAT DO THE OPPONENTS OF THE BILL SAY?
On the other hand, not everyone agrees that COVID liability lawsuits are a major issue. Some argue that there have been such a minimal number of lawsuits filed that the problem is nonexistent. Representative Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, argues, “The biggest problem our small businesses have is not getting sued, it’s having enough customers who feel safe to come to their restaurant, their barbershop.” Instead of avoiding lawsuits, Driskell suggests that lawmakers provide grants to small businesses to fund the proper protective equipment needed to safely remain open.
Another point of contention is the definition of government-issued health standards. Representative Omari Hardy, D-West Palm Beach, asked, “If a mayor makes comments at a press conference, is that standards or guidance?” Hardy went on to say the problem lies within the circular logic of protecting a government from being sued when “it creates and follows its own bad guidance.” He referenced Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s protection from being sued for making hospitalized COVID-19 patients to return to nursing homes where many deaths later happened. Cuomo set a standard, he followed it, and it cost New York greatly. If there are going to be health standards, the nation would benefit from uniform standards that can be applied everywhere instead of multiple scenarios where the standards continue to change.
YOUR NEXT STEP IN FILING A COVID LIABILITY CLAIM
Laws are constantly changing, and it is up to you to make yourself as knowledgeable of these changes as you can. However, a trusted attorney can help you navigate this process. If you need to file a COVID liability claim, contact us today at Keller, Melchiorre & Walsh. You need legal representation you can trust to gather inventory of your damage, document expenses, and negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf. Our experienced team is ready to fight for you and get you back on the road to recovery. Pandemic life has changed many aspects of the legal system, but we can guide you along every step of the way.