COVID-19 Business Liability Protection Bill Passes First Stop In House
A House bill created to protect businesses from frivolous COVID-19 lawsuits started moving Wednesday, clearing its first committee stop on a party-line vote. It’s a priority for business groups and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Rep. Lawrence McClure (R-Plant City) delivered the overview:
"This bill aims to reduce the threat of potential civil liability for COVID-19 related claims. House Bill 7 will protect business entities, educational institutions, religious institutions, and governmental entities acting in good faith," said McClure.
If the legislation becomes law, a person filing a lawsuit over COVID-19 would go through an entirely different process. It’s a three-step approval system heard only by a judge.
McClure explains it.
"On the front side requires simply a physician’s affidavit that would be conducted upon a patient coming in and there being a belief of reasonable medical certainty that that patient contracted COVID from that place or that person," said McClure.
Gainesville Democrat Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson (D-Gainesville) sees a problem with that.
"It appears in your bill that greater weight is placed on the doctors should a doctor be able to attest to the location that COVID was [conceived], the conditions, and if that person followed protocols," said Hinson. "How would a doctor be able to attest to that?"
McClure said he saw no issue and believes it’d be treated like any other doctor’s meeting.
"I would use an analogy of a patient goes in in a non-COVID related case and says my back hurts, the doctor says okay when did it start hurting. Two weeks ago," said McClure. "Well, what were you doing two weeks ago? Well, I was in a car accident. Well, there’s a belief that with reasonable medical certainty that that car accident contributed to the back pain."
Curry Pajcic is Treasurer of the Florida Justice Association, and a trial lawyer. He says while that sounds good it isn’t how it’d work.
"A physician cannot give an opinion that the bad restaurants their actions caused someone to get covid. A doctor can’t give that. They can say the person has COVID," said Pajcic. "But they can’t say the actions caused it."
Pajcic along with others also raised constitutionality concerns.
Usually in a case when a plaintiff must prove a defendant failed to do something a jury determines the outcome. McClure’s bill would put that decision in the hands of the judge. Rep. Ben Diamond (D-St. Petersburg) spoke against it.
"I’m concerned about the fact that the court is making a determination that in our system of justice is really a jury's call," said Diamond. "Whether the defendant, whether a business did something right or wrong in terms of complying with the standard, made a good faith effort that’s a question that you put to a jury under our civil justice system."
Diamond offered a solution in an amendment that failed.
Business COVID-19 lawsuit liability protections are on the Governor’s priority list for the 2021 session. While it’s expected to pass and ultimately become law, Diamond and others want to try and amend it to make sure it doesn’t protect what they say are bad businesses.
McClure, the proposal’s sponsor says he’ll try and strike a balance to not punish good business by allowing frivolous lawsuits, while still holding businesses that don’t follow COVID-19 safety and protection guidelines accountable.