Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on March 29 signed into law a bill that protects businesses, governments, and health care providers in the state from COVID-19 lawsuits, given they can prove they sufficiently followed guidelines to prevent the transmission of the disease.
The Republican governor signed SB 72 (pdf) during a news conference in Tallahassee, joined by state Senate President Wilton Simpson, House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and several Republican lawmakers.
The bill was passed in the House on March 26 an 83–31 vote, one week after it was approved by the state Senate.
Today I was pleased to sign SB 72 to protect Florida’s businesses and health care providers against frivolous COVID-19 lawsuits. pic.twitter.com/7YJ1OevoWW
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) March 29, 2021
Under the law, in order for a lawsuit to proceed, a plaintiff would need to show that the defendant deliberately ignored guidelines put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
A plaintiff would also be required to present 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.
“We don’t want to be in a situation where people are scared of being sued just for doing normal things,” the governor told reporters. “I hope that this will provide some certainty for folks.”
The act applies both retroactively to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and prospectively, the text of the bill states. It will set a one-year deadline for people to file claims from the time it becomes law, or from the date of injury.
“This is the most aggressive COVID liability bill in the United States of America,” Sprowls told reporters. “What this bill does is says, ‘If you’re doing the right thing, you’re protected.’”
Critics of the bill say people who have been caused injury by COVID-19, or those who have family members who died from the disease, will be denied access to the courts. Democrats argue that the language in the bill and the need to prove gross negligence will make it difficult to bring a case forward.
“This essentially shuts the door to the courts and the justice system for those workers who were injured or, God forbid, killed at the job through COVID. It’s just completely unnecessary,” said Florida AFL-CIO Director of Politics and Public Policy Rich Templin, Fox 13 reported.
Health officials and lawmakers argued during the onset of the CCP virus pandemic that it wasn’t clear how the virus spread, and how its spread could be curbed. They noted the shortage of personal protective equipment such as masks and hand sanitizer.
Republican Rep. Will Robinson said at the start of the pandemic: “Who can forget the shortages of things like hand sanitizer, paper towels, and toilet paper? During the fog of this deadly COVID-19 war, our health care professionals and their employers stepped up and marched headfirst into this pandemic battle.”
Responding to the bill, the Associated Industries of Florida stated on Twitter: “We appreciate @GovRonDeSantis acting quickly to protect Florida businesses by signing SB72 today. This will ensure businesses that took proactive steps to safeguard the well-being of their employees & the public are shielded from opportunistic COVID-related lawsuits.”