DeSantis signs COVID-19 liability shield law

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Time limits and who carries the burden of proof in COVID-19 liability lawsuits were locked in on Monday as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a COVID-19 liability shield bill into law.

“There is this fear of liability,” DeSantis said during the signing and press conference at the state Capitol. “We don’t want to be in a situation where people are afraid of being sued just for doing normal things.”

The law covers any “COVID-19-related claim,” which means a civil liability claim against “a person, including a natural person, a business entity, an educational institution, a governmental entity, or a religious institution, which arises from or is related to COVID-19, otherwise known as the novel coronavirus,” the law states.

DeSantis said he wanted to provide certainty for businesses and health care providers while encouraging residents to get back to living normal pre-pandemic lives.

“We want folks to be able to live their lives,” DeSantis said. “Provide opportunities for people to do different things and let individuals make the decisions about what they want to do. You want to go listen to the band? Go do it.”

To illustrate his point, DeSantis had a live band play before giving his remarks. 

DeSantis said the law is one of the most aggressive protection bills in the United States.

He said Florida is ahead of the curve in terms of economic performance and health metrics as he pointed to Florida’s 4.7 percent unemployment rate compared to the national rate of 6.2 percent.

One section of the law addresses health care workers and the risks they have faced throughout the pandemic.

“WHEREAS, health care providers, including hospitals, doctors, nurses, and other health care facilities and workers, have struggled to acquire personal protective equipment and other supplies to protect against the risk of COVID-19 transmission and medications used in the treatment of the disease, and WHEREAS, the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic have made it difficult or impossible for health care providers to maintain ideal levels of staffing, and WHEREAS, health care providers are essential to the residents of this state’s survival of the pandemic, and health care providers have continued to treat patients despite the potential, and still not fully known, risks of exposure to COVID-19.”

“Plaintiffs have the burden of proof in such actions,” the law states, referring to civil liability lawsuits for damages relating to COVID-19.

The law also addresses lawsuits that may arise over elective medical procedure that were put on hold via the March 2020 governor-issued Executive Order 20-72, which prohibited health care providers “from providing any medically unnecessary, non-urgent or non-emergency procedure or surgery which, if delayed, does not place a patient’s immediate health, safety, or well-being at risk, or will, if delayed, not contribute to the worsening of a serious or life-threatening medical condition.”

In both the delayed medical procedures and COVID-19 related cases, the law states that the plaintiff has one year from the date of death, hospitalization or the first diagnosis of COVID-19, which forms the basis of the action to commence a civil suit.

DeSantis also said he was against any type of vaccine passport mandate.

“We are not supporting doing any vaccine passports in the state of Florida,” he said, adding that the vaccine itself will never be forced on Florida residents. “Provide it for all, but mandate it for none.”

DeSantis pledged to sign an executive order addressing the vaccine passport subject and will urge legislators to pass a law against it as well.

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