Insights from Florida Chamber Insurance Summit: Lawmakers stress the need for liability protections

Woman wearing protective mask while using cell phone and buying food in grocery store during virus epidemic.
Lawmakers will need input and guidance from people in the trenches.

When lawmakers convene for the 2021 Legislative Session, COVID-19 liability protections for businesses will front and center.

The proposition has been topic of discussion throughout the Florida Chamber of Commerce Insurance Summit, and in the closing panel of the two-day event, Rep. Tom Leek said it would get airtime in the new Pandemic & Public Emergencies Committee he chairs.

“I’ve been a fan. I am a fan of it. I think that you’ve got to be, you’ve got to make it comfortable for people to go back to work,” the Ormond Beach Republican said. “The best and fastest track to recovery is an economy that’s moving. And so, I think to the extent that that liability immunity can play a role in that, we’re certainly going to look at it. And it’s my sincere hope that we pass it.”

Naples Republican Sen. Kathleen Passidomo said the Senate’s pandemic committee will undoubtedly consider similar legislation — in an earlier panel, Sen. Jeff Brandes said he has legislation ready to file — but that lawmakers will need guidance.

“We’ve never had a scenario like this, we’re used to hurricanes, where it’s, you know, five days, 10 days, we know how to handle it, we know what our responsibilities are, we know who the players are, they know their roles and other responsibilities. But this pandemic is something we’ve never encountered before,” she said.

“All the people that are in the trenches that have had to handle one or more aspect of this — whether it be education, or the insurance industry, or the health care industry — need to weigh in.”

Likewise, freshly minted Sen. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican, said he would give immunity protections serious consideration due to the challenges he’s seen during his prior job leading the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, which runs several nursing homes across the state.

The experience showed him that “no matter what we do, no matter what we did, there was never a guarantee that you could keep COVID-19 out of your facility.

“You could do everything right, you could exceed — and we did, we exceeded — every single standard, every single guideline. We were the first I believe the first state in the nation, the Governor and our team to issue a no-visitor policy, and we’re very proud of that. But at the end of the day, it didn’t prevent COVID-19 from getting in our facilities,” he said.

St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond said any potential protections would need to strike the right balance between businesses and residents, but the core of the issue was safety.

“I run a small business and, in my business, I interact with a lot of elderly people. We have to think about how we best protect businesses during this timeframe of such uncertainty, while also making sure we’re not going too far. So, it’s like every other hard legal issue we struggle with, but the devil’s in the details here,” he said.

“Underlying this question of COVID liability for small businesses is just how do we keep more Floridians safe. The fewer people who are getting sick, the fewer potential problems we’re going to have relating these issues.”

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.


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