Florida Gov Signs Sweeping COVID-19 Liability Protections Into Law
By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
On March 29, 2021, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that protects businesses, governments, and healthcare providers in Florida from COVID-19 lawsuits if they make a reasonable effort to follow guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus (whatever that means). Specifically, the measure gives civil immunity to corporations, hospitals, nursing homes, government entities, schools, and churches as long as the alleged negligence doesn’t involve gross negligence or intentional misconduct. The House Passed S.B. 72 on March 26, in an 83-31 vote, and DeSantis signed it the same day he received it from the Legislature.
Why doesn’t this conflict with the Florida Governor’s ban on any mandatory masking, vaccination, or vaccination “passport” requirements? This is very unclear. Perhaps the courts will need to straighten it out.
Details of Senate Bill 72.
The new law establishes significant legal hurdles for individuals who want to sue businesses and health care professionals over coronavirus-related injuries. Plaintiffs who file suit will need to show that the defendant deliberately ignored public health safety guidelines. They will also need a signed affidavit from a doctor stating with reasonable certainty that injury or death caused by COVID-19 was a direct result of the defendant’s actions. Does this sound arbitrary and capricious to anyone other than me?
Now how can a doctor or anyone else make a statement like the one required by the law? How does a doctor know where the patient has been or with whom the patient has been in contact the last fifteen days? How is a physician going to conduct contact tracing and figure out where the patient’s COVID-19 came from? This is very unclear. Perhaps the courts will need to straighten it out.
The law states that it will apply retroactively to the beginning of the pandemic. One must ask if this is an ex post facto law prohibited by the U.S. Constitution (Art. I, § 10, cl. 1.) and the Florida Constitution (Art. 1, § 10)? Additionally, the new law establishes a one-year limitation period to sue from the date of death, hospitalization, or COVID-19 diagnosis that forms the basis of the claim. Boy, this should really throw a big stumbling block in front of any potential plaintiff trying to get into court. (Note: Yes, I know that the federal prohibition on ex post facto laws was held to apply to criminal laws.)
“Over the course of the past year, our state’s businesses, health care providers, and other organizations have been forced to operate in fear of frivolous lawsuits with no merit threatening their livelihoods. As we move forward in our state’s economic recovery, this piece of legislation will provide Floridians with greater peace of mind as they go to work, go to school, and go about their daily lives,” DeSantis said applauding the quick passage of the legislation.
View S.B. 72 here.
To read about a recent case in Florida involving a COVID-19 death lawsuit, click here to read my blog.
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Hale, Nathan. “Fla. Gov. Signs Sweeping COVID-19 Liability Protection Law.” Law360. (March 29, 2021). Web.
Kang, Y. Peter. “Fla. COVID-19 Biz Liability Shield Bill Sent To Gov.’s Desk.” Law360. (March 26, 2021). Web.
NBC 6 Miami. “Florida Governor Signs COVID-19 Liability Protection Bill.” AP News. (March 29, 2021). Web.
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law; he is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Suite 1000, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620 Toll-Free: (888) 331-6620.
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