House Speaker Chris Sprowls on Wednesday vowed to prioritize legislation that would protect Florida businesses from “frivolous” COVID-19 related lawsuits.
The new legislation, (HB 7), extends 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.
“Florida businesses and organizations that do the right thing should not fear being drowned by massive litigation costs,” Sprowls said in a news release. “We are fast-tracking this COVID-19 liability protection bill to ensure that there is no potential for unscrupulous litigation to threaten Florida’s economic recovery. Ours is the most aggressive liability protection bill in the nation.”
Filed by Hillsborough County Republican Rep. Lawrence McClure, the measure will be heard by the Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee on Jan. 13, the opening day of the House’s first committee week. It comes as one of the Legislature’s first 2021 moves to jumpstart businesses and the state’s COVID-19 battered economy.
“A small-restaurant owner shouldn’t have to worry about making payroll because a predatory actor seized on an opportunity to sue and settle,” McClure said. “HB 7 does what 21 other states across the country have done already, and it does it better.”
Notably, HB 7 omits protections for health care providers including nursing homes and longterm care facilities. In the news release, Sprowls said protections for health care providers will require a separate bill and discussion.
“Florida’s health care providers have other considerations and risks that deserve greater discussion and evaluation,” Sprowls said. “We owe it to them and the vulnerable populations they serve to be heard before we address their concerns with another bill. “We appreciate President (Wilton) Simpson’s partnership on this important legislation and look forward to working with the Senate on it, as well. I’ve asked Chair Colleen Burton of the Health and Human Services committee to engage in dialogue next week about protections for health care providers.”
Sen. Jeff Brandes filed an identical Senate Bill.
That bill, SB 72, would require a COVID-19 related lawsuit to accompany a physician’s affidavit that claims the defendant caused the plaintiff’s injuries or damages.
“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,” said Chair Brandes. “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.”
The Florida Legislative Session begins March 2.