Warning: Theme parks, businesses post coronavirus disclaimers as Florida reopens

State senator drafting legislation to protect small businesses from COVID-19-related lawsuits

As Disney Springs begins to reopen in just days, the Walt Disney World Company sent a stern warning to guests planning to visit on May 20.

ORLANDO, Fla. – As Disney Springs begins to reopen in just days, the Walt Disney World Company sent a stern warning to guests planning to visit on May 20.

“COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, senior citizens and guests with underlying medical conditions are especially vulnerable," the warning said. “By visiting Disney Springs, you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19."

This is one of the warnings customers will start seeing as many businesses from theme parks to restaurants are beginning to put disclaimers on their doors.

"Basically enter at your own risk," said Thomas Ward, as he points to the front door of his restaurant Pig Floyd's. "My attorney drew it up."

Ward put the warning up at the advice of his attorney after he was told by his insurance company that they will not cover any liability lawsuits due to COVID-19.

“They aren’t covering anything that is related to COVID-19,” Ward said. “We have no business interruption insurance, we have no liability insurance. It’s disheartening.”

He said it’s also a huge risk.

“A huge risk, absolutely.”

News 6 legal analyst Steven Kramer said it's only a matter of time before businesses begin to see lawsuits like this.

"It's almost certain we are going to see these types of lawsuits," Kramer said. "Certainly businesses have got to be looking at this and that's why they are looking to place these measures where there is an assumption of liability."

However, Kramer says in court it will be difficult to prove.

"It's very difficult to prove," Kramer said. "The hardest part of proving liability - talking about customers, patrons, employees whoever - showing it was this act, this business, this person that resulted in you getting sick."

Still, he said businesses aren’t completely protected, advising them to post disclaimers and warnings but also to follow as many guidelines from the CDC to OSHA to protect themselves as much as possible.

However, one Florida state senator is hoping to provide even more of a safe harbor for businesses. Republican State Senator Jeff Brandes is in the process of drafting a bill that would protect businesses from lawsuits as long as they following state guidelines.

“That’s the problem even if you are taking temperatures, even if you are doing standard social distancing, businesses may be doing everything they can but people are still going to be exposed in certain businesses,” Senator Brandes told News 6. “For us, it’s incumbent upon the state to create a safe harbor for businesses so that we know with legal certainty, if they are complying with the guidelines unless it’s gross negligence, that they are protected.”

The only problem with the legislation though right now is timing. As it stands the Florida legislature is not expected to convene again until the next session in 2021, that is unless a special session is called before then.

“We wanted to make sure our legislation is available if we go back to a special session,” Senator Brandes said.