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DeSantis signs bill expanding coronavirus liability protections for businesses

The first major legislative response to the pandemic protects Florida businesses.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R- Palm Harbor, applauds following the State of the State address while Gov. Ron DeSantis shakes hands with Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, at the Capitol in Tallahassee during Opening Day of the Florida Legislature on Tuesday, March 2, 2021.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R- Palm Harbor, applauds following the State of the State address while Gov. Ron DeSantis shakes hands with Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, at the Capitol in Tallahassee during Opening Day of the Florida Legislature on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Mar. 29
Updated Mar. 29

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the first major legislative response to the coronavirus pandemic into law Monday.

Backed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, the measure would make it harder to sue health care providers, governments and other businesses in COVID-19 related lawsuits. Proponents of the legislation say it’s necessary to help businesses reopen with confidence. Opponents, including most Democrats in the Legislature, say it’s an unnecessary giveaway to well-heeled interests.

“We don’t want to be in a situation where people are scared of being sued just for doing normal things,” DeSantis said at a news conference Monday in the Florida Capitol’s Cabinet room, where he signed the legislation.

DeSantis pulled out all the stops for Monday’s bill signing event. The proceedings opened with a live performance of the Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends” by a rock band, Highway 85.

After the band’s final notes faded, DeSantis took to the microphone to weigh in on the problems facing businesses dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. He said the new law would help bands like Highway 85 get back to playing on a regular basis.

“Let individuals make the decisions about what they want to do,” DeSantis said. “You want to listen to the band? Go do it. You don’t? That’s fine.”

The bill, SB 72, a top priority of Republican leaders which sped through the Legislature this year, will do the following things:

  • Floridians cannot sue a business, government or other group if a judge determines the defendants made “a good faith effort” to abide by government health guidance at the time of an alleged problem.
  • Anyone filing a lawsuit will be required to include an affidavit from a physician who can attest that their COVID-19-related injuries were caused by the party being sued.
  • Even if a plaintiff can show a business did not act in good faith, the bill would make it harder for those suing to win a case. The law raises the standard of proof in these cases from the usual “preponderance of evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.”
  • The bill requires that Floridians sue within one year of an alleged COVID-19-related problem.

The measure went into effect as soon as DeSantis signed off on it. The new law does not affect COVID-19-related lawsuits that have already been filed.

Related: Florida Senate passes bill to shield businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits
Related: The case for — and against — making it harder to sue health care facilities over COVID-19