By: George Levesque, Shareholder
Florida – March 31, 2021 – On March 29, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 72 – Civil Liability for Damages Relating to COVID-19 into law as Chapter 2021-1, Laws of Florida. "Over the course of the past year, our state's businesses, health care providers, and other organizations have been forced to operate in fear of frivolous lawsuits with no merit threatening their livelihoods," DeSantis said. "As we move forward in our state's economic recovery, this good piece of legislation will provide Floridians with greater peace of mind as they go to work, go to school, and go about their daily lives."
Who does Chapter 2021-1, Laws of Florida impact?
This new law protects business and nonprofit organizations, government entities, schools, churches, hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care providers by creating a reasonable and appropriate barrier for individuals who want to sue over coronavirus-related injuries.
What does the bill do?
The new law aims to protect businesses and health care providers from COVID-19 injury and death lawsuits.
For non-health care providers, it raises the typical pleading standard for a civil liability claim arising from or related to COVID-19, requiring a complaint to be pled with particularity. Any complaint must also include a physician’s affidavit asserting that the injuries claimed are related to the defendant’s acts or omissions. A court reviewing a complaint must ascertain whether the plaintiff complied with the pleading requirements and whether the defendant made a good faith effort at compliance with the authoritative or controlling government-issued health standards or guidance at the time. A finding of good faith compliance immunizes the defendant from civil liability. If the court determines the defendant did not make a good faith effort at compliance, the case may proceed, but plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating that defendant was grossly negligent by clear and convincing evidence.
For health care providers, a complaint must be pled with particularity, but no physician’s affidavit is required. A plaintiff also faces a heightened burden to demonstrate that the health care provider was grossly negligent or engaged in intentional misconduct to bring a successful claim. The bill strengthens affirmative defenses for health care providers that substantially complied with and relied upon health standards, effectively providing them civil immunity if the provider can prove one or more of their affirmative defenses by the greater weight of the evidence.
Finally, the new law imposes a one year statute of limitations and applies to all claims that accrued prior to and after March 29, 2021, except for civil actions commenced against a particular named defendant before March 29, 2021.