Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was rocking as he signed the first bill sent to his desk by lawmakers during their 2021 legislative session---a fast-tracked measure instantly installing COVID-liability protections for businesses and health care providers.
Senate Bill 72, approved by the House on March 26 in an 83-31 vote, was ceremoniously signed into law by the governor March 29 as a band played the Beatles’ "With A Little Help From My Friends" in a Capitol celebration.
“We don’t want to be in a situation where people are scared of being sued just for doing normal things,” DeSantis said while flanked by House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
“We want folks to be able to live their lives, provide opportunities for people to do different things and then let individuals make the decisions about what they want to do,” he added.
SB 72, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, was drafted from American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model legislation to extend COVID-19 protections to businesses, schools, nonprofits, religious institutions and health care providers that make “good-faith efforts” to follow government health guidelines.
Under SB 72 and House companion, House Bill 7, filed by Rep. Lawrence McClure, R-Dover, a plaintiff filing a COVID-19 lawsuit must prove with “clear and convincing evidence” a defendant acted with “gross negligence.”
The new law---which went into effect with DeSantis’ signature but does not apply retroactively to filed suits---requires plaintiffs obtain affidavits from physicians attesting defendants’ acts or omissions caused damages, injuries or deaths.
In addition, the law raises the standard of proof in COVID-19 related lawsuits from the usual “preponderance of evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence” and requires cases be brought within one year of an alleged COVID-19-related problem.
“This is the most aggressive COVID liability protection bill in the United States of America,” Sprowls said.
Proponents, including business associations spearheaded by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, fear...