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State Legislature To Fast Track COVID-19 Liability Protection For Businesses

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Instruction about safe shopping on the door into the shop in the gallery during Covid-19 pandemic. Behind glass door two women customers with face masks.

Businesses open during the pandemic are at risk of lawsuits if someone were to claim they caught COVID-19 due to negligence. Florida’s elected officials are now taking things into their own hands since the federal government hasn’t addressed the issue.

Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) is backing a plan to shield businesses from COVID-19 liability lawsuits. Brandes says he’s trying to guard against frivolous lawsuits.

"There are many who practice a sue and settle model in Florida," said Brandes. "This is meant to provide some business some safe harbor so that they can provide a legitimate defense against frivolous lawsuits."

Governor Ron DeSantis too questions the legitimacy and plausibility of such cases and threw his support behind the proposal in September.

"I’ve mentioned that we may need to act early on is liability protection regards to coronavirus," said DeSantis. "We thought that that was going to be done by the federal government. The grand bargain was going to be liability protection for business and then aid to states."

DeSantis believes the protection will help the tourism and hospitality industries the most, both big contributors to Florida’s economy.

"Southern Florida and Central Florida are the areas that have the highest unemployment in Florida," said DeSantis." I think it’s a relation to those industries the hospitality, the tourism. And we want to be able to get it back."

Brandes’s legislation would require accusers to prove their case if they contract COVID-19 and blame a business.

"The plaintiff must show with clear and convincing evidence, they must have a physician’s good faith belief that the defendant was the cause of their damages and they must prove gross negligence," said Brandes.

The legislation is also retroactive so any business that has followed the CDC and state protocols throughout the pandemic would be protected.

Brandes believes it’ll be one of the first bills to make it to the governor’s desk once session begins in March.

"Both the House, the Senate, and the Governor recognize the critical nature of this type of legislation," said Brandes. "And [we] believe this is one of the most high priority pieces of legislation we’re going to deal with this year in order to stabilize the economy get people back to work and ensure that Florida maintains its standing as one of the best states to live and work in."

In the House, Speaker Chris Sprowls has vowed to fast track the bill. It’s scheduled to be heard and voted on during the first day of committee weeks on January 13.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.