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DeSantis Signs FL COVID-19 Liability Protections Into Law

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The Florida Channel
Gov. Ron DeSantis signs COVID-19 liability protections for businesses and health care providers into law on Monday, March 29, 2021.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law on Monday COVID-19 liability protections for businesses and health care providers.

The legislation makes it harder for people to sue grocery stores, churches, schools, hospitals and nursing homes for failing to follow health and safety guidelines.

“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 press conference before signing the bill. “And so we worked very early on to look to see ways that we could provide some certainty for businesses and health care providers."

Republican leadership in the state legislature prioritized liability protections, with the legislation making it to the governor’s desk before any other bill this session.

Florida is now among more than a dozen other states that have enacted some form of coronavirus-related liability protections.

Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Clearwater, touted the measure as the "most aggressive" in the nation.

“What this bill does is says if you're doing the right things, you're protected,” Sprowls said. “If you're doing the wrong things, then there's a way for people to get there.”

Michael Feiner, a Fort Lauderdale-based personal injury lawyer, says it will make it almost impossible for anyone with a legitimate claim to win in court. “The bar has been set so high for anyone to gain access to the courts, let alone prevail on a COVID case.”

Plaintiffs must obtain an affidavit from a doctor, stating the defendant’s failure to following health and safety guidelines caused the COVID-19 infection that led to a death or injury “within a reasonable degree of medical certainty.”

The complaint must also rise to the level of “gross negligence.” Feiner says that means the defendant has to prove they were aware of a "high probability" that someone would contract COVID-19 if they continued operating in the same fashion.

In other negligence cases, that bar is lower, Feiner said. “It’s only a reasonable degree of medical probability."

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated personal injury lawyer Michael Feiner is based in Tampa. Feiner's office is based in Fort Lauderdale.

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.