COVID-19 liability protection bill set to become law

Coronavirus

TAMPA (WFLA) – The first bill to pass both chambers in the 2021 Florida legislative session is about to become law.

S.B. 72, a COVID-19 business liability protection bill sponsored by State Sen. Jeff Brandes R-Pinellas County passed in the Florida House on Friday.

“We raised the bar to gross negligence, so unless you can show with clear and convincing evidence that a business committed gross negligence, then you’re barred from a lawsuit,” Brandes told 8 On Your Side. “What we’re really trying to do is basically stop the ‘sue and settle’ model that we see here in Florida so often.”

Gio Cruz co-owns Ducky’s Sports Lounge with former Tampa Bay Rays star Evan Longoria. When 8 On Your Side spoke to him last year, he didn’t know how the business would survive. Now that it has, Cruz is thankful for this legislation.

“Yeah I am,” Cruz said, “Because there’s a lot of people that will end up losing their business. There’s a lot of people that will end up getting lawsuits that’s truly not their fault, and you can’t really say this came from that person, this came from that business.”

According to the text of the bill, plaintiffs have extra burdens to bring Covid-related lawsuits against a Florida business:

At the same time the complaint is filed, the plaintiff must submit an affidavit signed by a physician actively licensed in this state which attests to the physician’s belief, within a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that the plaintiff’s COVID-19-related damages, injury, or death occurred as a result of the defendant’s acts or omissions.

Florida S.B. 72, Civil Liability for Damages Relating to COVID-19

Last year, the family of Gerardo “Gerry” Gutierrez, a former Publix deli worker, sued the company. Their attorney, Michael Levine, says Gutierrez asked to wear a mask at work, but was told he couldn’t because it may scare away customers.

“Gutierrez had worked two days in a row alongside a coworker who is who was coughing, and shortly thereafter she tested positive for COVID-19,” Levine said.

Gutierrez died alone in the hospital shortly after.

Opponents of the bill said it leaves businesses off the hook and makes it harder for consumers to hold them responsible.

“There will be no accountability for them if their employees or if their consumers get sick,” said Rich Templin of AFL-CIO Florida.

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk, where he is expected to sign it into law.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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