News & Media
judge's gavel on top of masks that say COVID-19
isayildiz / Getty Images

Should Businesses Be Protected from Pandemic-Related Lawsuits?

Experts fear an onslaught of lawsuits against businesses from customers who blame them for contracting COVID-19 – but tightening laws could create other problems.

TALLAHASSEE – Twenty-one Republican governors sent a letter this week to congressional leaders arguing that businesses, health care workers and schools need lawsuit protections because of the COVID-19 pandemic, though Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was one of five Republican governors not included in the letter.

Congress is considering another COVID-19 relief package, and many Republicans say liability protections need to be part of any legislation ultimately passed and sent to Pres. Donald Trump.

“To accelerate reopening our economies as quickly and as safely as possible, we must allow citizens to get back to their livelihoods and make a living for their families without the threat of frivolous lawsuits,” the letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said. “As public policymakers, it is our duty to provide clarity, consistency, and stability to our citizens and their businesses, and the uniformity that federal law provides is critical to America’s industries that work across state lines.”

However, attempts to limit lawsuits – an issue commonly known as tort reform – often spur fierce political battles in Tallahassee, with plaintiffs’ attorneys squaring off against business and health-care groups. Opponents of such limits generally contend that they penalize people who are injured because of the actions of businesses or health-care providers.

Florida Justice Reform Institute President William Large said Tuesday that legal protections still are necessary. He suggested two possible change options:

  • Shorten the timeframe people have to file lawsuits against businesses or health care providers, changing it from the current four years to one year.
  • Heighten evidentiary standards and culpability standards to provide more protection to businesses.

While DeSantis didn’t join the other governors in sending the letter to Congress, Large said he remains optimistic that the governor supports lawsuit protections.

“The first opportunity the Legislature addresses any subject dealing with COVID-19, such as the budget, we will ask for appropriate liability (protections),” Large said.

Source: News Service of Florida