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Jeff Brandes Prepares Legislation to Protect Businesses From Coronavirus Lawsuits

Jeffrey R. Davis

The legislation would not protect gross negligence.

Sen. Jeff Brandes is preparing legislation that would protect Florida businesses from being sued if someone contracts the novel coronavirus while working or receiving goods and services on their premises.

As Gov. Ron DeSantis takes steps to begin reopening the state as soon as May 1, Brandes said businesses, particularly small businesses, are worried about liability issues.

“It really is one of the top concerns of businesses reopening,” Brandes said. “Asymptomatic people working in their faculty could spread the disease and lawsuits could come from that.”

“This is a top of mind issue for them and one that will keep Florida from reaching its full potential,” he continued.

Brandes said he’s heard from numerous small business owners who are fearful over liability associated with reopening if an employee or customer were to contract the illness even if they were taking reasonable steps to protect them. He worries that fear will lead to businesses not reopening even if the state allows them to do so.

The legislation would block lawsuits against companies over COVID-19 contraction as long as those companies were taking all necessary precautions to protect employees and customers.

Bad actors who ignore required precautions, whether that’s social distancing or personal protective equipment or some other requirements related to reopening, would not be protected under Brandes’ legislation.

“If there is gross negligence, that’s a very different standard,” Brandes said.

“We think there should be a safe harbor for businesses who are trying to do the right thing. It’s all about getting people back to work.”

Brandes said he would file the legislation at a Special Session if one is convened, which he estimated only had about a 30% chance of happening.

If there isn’t a Special Session to deal with coronavirus-related issues, Brandes said he’d file the legislation during regular session.

The legislation, Brandes said, is in its very early stages.

He’s also working with federal partners to push national legislation.

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