COVID-19 liability protections are expected to get the fast track in the 2021 Legislative Session, which begins March 2.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls last week vowed to make the protections a priority. The House plan, HB 7 by Rep. Lawrence McClure, would extend protections to businesses, schools, nonprofits and religious institutions who make a “good-faith effort” to follow government health guidelines. The protections would apply retroactively to a newly filed lawsuit if signed into law.
On Wednesday, the bill went before the House Civil Justice and Property Rights Subcommittee, earning an affirmative vote.
Several organizations applauded the committee vote.
American Property Casualty Insurance Association
APCIA issued a statement Wednesday evening commending the committee.
“APCIA thanks chair Wyman Duggan, vice chair Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin, and the House Civil Justice and Property Rights Subcommittee for passing House Bill 7, which will provide critical liability protections for Florida businesses,” said Logan McFaddin, APCIA’s assistant vice president of state government relations.
“Florida businesses that conform with pandemic safety guidance to protect their employees and customers should be able to operate without the fear of a COVID-related lawsuit. A mountain of litigation against small businesses trying to operate safely would only slow Florida’s economic recovery.
“APCIA looks forward to working with the House and Senate on the swift passage of House Bill 7 during the upcoming Legislative Session.”
In comments delivered to committee members, FTW president and CEO Dominic M. Calabro said businesses need to be shielded from “frivolous” COVID-19 related lawsuits, and if they aren’t then the economic consequences could be dire.
Attached to his comments were copies of the a recent FTW report, titled “The Best Defense Is A Good Offense: The Economic Impact of Protecting Responsible Floridians from COVID-Related Civil Liability.”
Calabro stressed the key point: “In short, if employers’ confidence in the economy is shaken due to the absence of a liability shield, we would reduce the Florida economy by as much as $27.6 billion and more than 356,000 jobs annually.”
He said it was equally important that lawmakers craft the protections in a way that does not protect negligent businesses.
“Florida TaxWatch understands and acknowledges that immunity from civil liability will not stem the spread of COVID-19, nor will it prevent injury or harm or make the associated costs go away, but if Florida’s economy is to recover and regain its pre-pandemic prosperity, it is essential that businesses, healthcare facilities, and other entities that are working hard to comply with public health directives or protective measures are protected from civil liability,” he concluded.
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis
Patronis has been pushing for liability protections for months, holding a series of events at restaurants across the state to highlight their need.
“It’s my top priority this year to advocate for vital liability protections for Florida businesses and job creators so they can live without the constant fear of bad actors looking to make a quick buck off the pandemic,” he said Wednesday.
“I’m proud to support Representative Lawrence McClure in ensuring Florida is proactive in its approach to enhancing our state’s continued economic rebound with this good bill. Those who are working to do right by their customers, and are following government guidelines, should be able to operate without fear of frivolous litigation.
“Without actions by the Legislature, we could see more litigation raise insurance rates and hamper Florida’s recovery. I was pleased to speak on this legislation today and I look forward to working with Speaker Chris Sprowls and Representative Lawrence McClure to see these measures through to the finish line,” he concluded.