(March 30) Since the earliest days of the current pandemic more than a year ago, it should have been obvious that honest businesses trying their best to handle something so unpredictable shouldn’t face lawsuits related to the coronavirus. Alas, Congress often misses the obvious.

On Monday, Florida joined 25 other states that have enacted such liability protections (not even counting gubernatorial executive orders). Florida’s new law is described as “the most aggressive COVID liability bill” in the United States, and Florida is the most populous state to have passed such a measure so far. Although most of its supporters were Republican, the law also garnered votes in favor from four Democrats in the Florida House and one Democrat in the state Senate.

As reported by the Orlando Sentinel, “COVID-19 claims against a business or health care provider now require an affidavit from a medical professional asserting the person contracted the virus on the company’s property and need to have ‘clear and convincing evidence’ of ‘gross negligence’ — a high legal standard — to bring a case. Lawsuits also must be filed within a year from Monday to be considered valid.”

Furthermore, if a business “substantially complied” with whatever government coronavirus-related orders were in place at the time, it is then assumed to have a “valid defense” against virus-related legal action. With so many government directives and advisories changing so often, this protection makes good sense. Top scientists sometimes have contradicted themselves (or “updated” their advice) within the space of mere months, so why should businesses be held liable when making good-faith attempts to operate responsibly?

And yes, this is a real problem that needed addressing. As of three weeks ago, plaintiffs had filed at least 53 COVID-related lawsuits in Florida.

With the new law, victims still could receive redress if the defendant businesses were clearly negligent. But the nexus between the business’s error and the contraction of the coronavirus must be direct….

[The full column is here.]


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