Florida liability shield bill signed into law

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a COVID-19 liability shield bill into law on Monday. It is one of the first bills passed into law in Florida since the 2021 legislative session began at the start of the month.

The bill, SB 72, was filed by Sen. Jeff Brandes in January. The bill provides schools, houses of worship, employers and non-profits with immunity from COVID-19 related lawsuits unless a plaintiff can prove they suffered from COVID-19 complications due to negligence. Plaintiffs will need a written affidavit from a doctor establishing a clear link between the entity being sued and the patient’s complications. The entities will also receive immunity if they made a demonstrable attempt to follow state COVID-19 guidelines, even if they could not do so due to lack of resources.

 

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The bill initially included medical providers, though they were later removed and added into another similar bill.

The bill passed the Senate by a 24-15 vote on March 18, with all Republicans voting in favor and almost all Democrats opposing the bill. It passed the House on March 26 by a 83-31 vote. Like the Senate, House Republicans nearly universally supported the bill with large opposition from Democrats.

The law will go into effect immediately. It will retroactively apply to all COVID-19 related lawsuits since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Liability shields have been a source of controversy in the state. Advocacy groups like the Florida Hospital Association and Florida Health Care Association, who are in favor of the bill, have clashed with the AARP and other interest groups that have publicly opposed liability shield bills.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls, who introduced an identical House version of the same bill, called it the most aggressive COVID liability shield in the United States.

A similar bill that will cover medical providers, SB 74 has yet to receive a vote on the Senate floor.