TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida businesses would be protected from coronavirus lawsuits if they made a good effort to follow state-issued guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 under a proposal approved Monday at its first Senate committee stop.
While Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has lifted restrictions on businesses, such as limiting capacity at restaurants, the bill would retroactively cover businesses, individuals and other organizations when businesses were ordered closed or to limit customers.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill on a 7-4 vote, with Republicans supporting the legislation and Democrats opposed.
In order for a lawsuit to move forward, a plaintiff would have to present a signed affidavit from a Florida physician saying that there is a reasonable degree of certainty that the defendant's actions caused the illness or death.
Sen. Jeff Brandes said his bill wouldn't protect businesses that deliberately ignored safety precautions, such as a restaurant owner who knew an employee tested positive for the virus and still scheduled the person to work.
The bill doesn't include health care providers. Brandes said separate legislation will address that industry.
“This legislation not only covers businesses, but it covers people, it covers educational institutions, it covers government entities and, frankly, it covers your churches. All of those are currently exposed,” Brandes said. “We need to create a safe harbor for those business that substantially complied with the guidelines.”
Democrats argued that if businesses were taking safety measures and following state guidelines, they shouldn't have to worry about lawsuits.
“When I have to go back to my community and talk about people being evicted, people having food insecurities, life and death issues, I think it’s a sad reflection on this state that this is what we choose to address first as it relates to this virus,” said Democratic Sen. Perry Thurston.