The Florida Senate will streamline legislation on Monday that would provide COVID-19 liability protections for businesses.
The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to take up SB 72 at 2:30 p.m. Monday in Room 412 of the Knott Building.
The Senate’s apparent urgency is in near lockstep with the rapid pace taken by the House on HB 7, a bill also seeking COVID-19 liability protections.
SB 72 and HB 7 seek to exclusively protect churches, schools and businesses from “frivolous” COVID-19 related lawsuits. Both bills notably omit protections for health care providers such as nursing homes and employees.
By design, the measures would make winning lawsuits a greater challenge for plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs would need to prove gross negligence rather than simple negligence.
The bills would also raise the evidentiary standards from “greater weight of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.”
In addition, COVID-19 related lawsuits would require a physician’s affidavit, attesting that the defendant caused the plaintiff’s injuries or damages.
“The Legislature further recognizes that the threat of frivolous and potentially limitless civil liability, especially in the wake of a pandemic, causes businesses, entities, and institutions to react in a manner detrimental to the state’s economy and residents,” SB 72 reads.
Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls have expressed support for the protections.
“The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has created an uncertain legal climate for Florida businesses, which could result in serious and ongoing economic challenges for our entire state,” bill sponsor Jeff Brandes said at the bill’s unveiling. “These important protections will aid in separating the serious and meritorious claims brought against a Florida business from the claims that are unfair or inappropriate as our state continues to fully reopen and recover.”
While SB 72 will get a first look during the second interim committee week, a House subcommittee advanced HB 7 early last week.
HB 7 is now in the hands of the newly minted Pandemics and Public Emergencies Committee.
The Florida Legislative Session begins March 2.