The Florida House of Representatives introduced a bill this January that would protect Florida businesses from COVID-19-related litigation. The bill was recently passed by a major committee within the Florida Legislature, indicating that it is likely to pass soon.
What is House Bill 7 (HB 7)?
According to the text of HB 7, the Florida Legislature “intends for certain business entities, educational institutions, governmental entities, and religious institutions to enjoy heightened legal protection against liability” arising from the pandemic.
The bill acknowledges that Florida businesses have struggled as a result of the pandemic, especially Florida’s large hospitality and tourism industry. Since travel has reduced significantly over the past year, businesses within this industry have been fighting to stay afloat.
Florida’s Response to HB 7
Florida officials have recognized the importance of supporting businesses since the beginning of the pandemic. Over the summer, Governor Ron DeSantis reopened the state, allowing small businesses to reopen safely and giving workers the right to work.
Representative Tom Leek of Ormond Beach echoed similar concerns about this reality. “If [workers are] going to go back to work, then they have to have a place to work,” Leek says. “And if they’re going to have a place to go to work, then you’re going to have to provide the employers some reasonable safeguards that they’re not going to get hit with an onslaught of litigation.”
Who is Included in the Bill?
The proposed bill includes various businesses and organizations to be protected from litigation. The bill defines “business entity” as “any form of corporation, partnership, association, cooperative, joint venture, business trust, or sole proprietorship that conducts business in this state.” It also provides definitions for charitable organizations and corporations not for profit.
Furthermore, the bill provides for the term “COVID-19-related claim” to include “any such claim for damages, injury, or death” arising from the virus. Healthcare providers are not shielded from such claims in this bill.
Do Businesses Have Complete Immunity?
Businesses are not absolutely immune from litigation arising under COVID-19-related claims.
According to the text of the proposed bill, the court must make certain determinations as to whether the suit can be heard. One requirement is that the plaintiff submits a signed affidavit from an actively licensed Florida physician, showing that the physician believes that the plaintiff’s claim resulted from the defendant’s acts or omissions. Additionally, the court must determine whether the defendant “made a good faith effort to substantially comply with authoritative or controlling government-issued health standards or guidance” during accrual of the claim. There are a number of additional requirements in the bill before commencing litigation against businesses.
If you have any questions on how to navigate this new bill, please contact Vernon Litigation Group in Naples. We are more than happy to help you. Our attorneys have decades of experience protecting small businesses and addressing their various business and legal needs.
Dial (239) 319-4434 today for a no-cost consultation to discuss your small business’s needs.