TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – 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 signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday.
The legislation was the first bill to go to the governor during the 60-day legislative session that began March 2. 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 law takes effect immediately.
“We don't want to be in a situation where people are scared of being sued just for doing normal things. I hope that this will provide some certainty for folks."
DeSantis had a live band playing a cover version of The Beatles “With a Little Help from My Friends” in the Cabinet meeting room before he signed the bill. He was joined by Senate President Wilton Simpson, House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and several Republican lawmakers.
“This is the most aggressive COVID liability bill in the United States of America,” Sprowls said. “What this bill does is says, ‘If you’re doing the right thing, you're protected.'"
The law will apply retroactively to the beginning of the pandemic. It will set a one-year deadline for people to file claims.
Democrats opposed the measures, saying it 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.
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.