Last week, Florida enacted legislation shielding businesses and health care providers from COVID-19 injury and death lawsuits, which is good news for business but bad news for consumers.
The new law gives civil immunity to corporations, hospitals, nursing homes, government entities, schools and churches, among others, for injuries related to Covid-19 caused by negligent conduct. It does allow plaintiffs to bring causes of action based on alleged gross negligence or intentional misconduct, but in those cases, it raises the burden of proof and places other procedural requirements to make it more difficult for plaintiffs to bring their claims. For example, according to the statute, plaintiffs will have to prove that a defendant did not make a good faith effort to comply with public health standards and that a defendant committed gross negligence under a "clear and convincing" evidentiary standard. The law also establishes a one-year limitation period from the later of the date of death, hospitalization or COVID-19 diagnosis that forms the basis of the claim.
Not surprisingly, tort reform advocacy groups, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and defendants' lawyers have expressed their approval of the new law, claiming, among other things that "[w]ith the governor's signing of Senate Bill 72, [businesses] no longer have to be worried about fighting frivolous lawsuits from plaintiffs alleging they contracted COVID-19 at their place of business."
This statement is, of course, nonsense. The law was not enacted (and does nothing new) to eliminate frivolous lawsuits. The law, like most other tort reform measures, was enacted to prevent valid litigation.
What the law does is eliminate incentives for businesses, hospitals, and nursing homes to act reasonably in order to protect the public from whom they derive all their profits. One of the main goals of tort law is to deter conduct that creates unreasonable risks of harm to others. The statute adopted in Florida does the opposite. It does nothing to protect employees, customers and front line workers who have sacrificed to keep communities safe and the economy open by eliminating the possibility of accountability for negligent businesses and health care facilities.
Now businesses, including hospitals and nursing homes, do not have to worry about acting with due care and will not be liable for any injuries they cause as a result. How is that a good thing?
Law360 has more on the story here.