During a press conference on Monday, March 29, 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 72, which grants civil immunity to corporations, hospitals, nursing homes, government entities, schools, and churches from COVID-19-related lawsuits, except in cases of gross negligence or intentional misconduct. Plaintiffs who file suit in Florida alleging coronavirus-related injuries will face robust legal hurdles. These plaintiffs must:
- Provide a physician’s affidavit stating with reasonable certainty that the injury or death from COVID-19 resulted from the defendant’s actions;
- Establish in court that the defendant failed to make a good-faith effort to comply with public health standards;
- Prove by “clear and convincing” evidence that a defendant committed gross negligence (or intentional misconduct); and
- File claims within one year from the later of the date of death, hospitalization, or COVID-19 diagnosis that is the basis for the claim.
This new law applies to claims that accrued before the enactment of the law and within one year following the governor’s signing, but does not apply to suits that were already filed and pending at the time of signing. Senator Jeff Brandes, the bill’s author, stated that “[b]usinesses and medical facilities across our state are trying to survive, reopen, and recover from the pandemic. Now is not the time for excessive and frivolous litigation.” Senate President Wilton Simpson similarly stated that “[t]he last thing we want is for businesses and health care providers . . . to face a constant threat of frivolous lawsuits that hamper their ability to serve their patients and customers.”
Florida is the most recent state to enact legislation to shield businesses and health care providers from COVID-19 injury and wrongful-death lawsuits. Previously, many other states—including Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming—have enacted similar legislation, with some extending protections to individual health care workers. Additional states have provided protections via executive orders issued by their governors, and still others are in the process of enacting legislation that would offer some protections for health care providers and businesses with respect to COVID-19-related injuries.