Gov. Ron DeSantis signs legislation limiting lawsuits against businesses and medical providers for exposing workers and patients to COVID-19, on March 29, 2021, in the Florida Capitol. Credit: Michael Moline

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation into law Monday that will make it harder for working Floridians and consumers to sue businesses, medical providers, and other entities that they believe exposed them or family members to sickness and death through COVID-19.

It was the first bill out of the 60-day regular legislation that the governor has signed, and he did so during a ceremony bookended by performances by a Tallahassee band that has suffered the sort of pandemic work losses that he argues the bill (SB 72) will alleviate.

“You look at some of these things that haven’t been happening as much — I think part of the reasons is because there’s a fear of liability. You have one of these events, you end up having to battle lawsuits,” DeSantis said.

“We don’t want a situation where people are scared of being sued just for doing normal things.”

Flanking the governor were fellow Republicans House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Senate President Wilton Simpson, and House and Senate members who played roles in the bill’s passage on Friday.

Businesses and health providers including nursing homes supported the new law but unions and groups representing rank-and-file Floridians opposed it. The latter argued the measure will shield business, charities, schools, and other entities that expose people to the coronavirus through negligence.

The new law, which took effect immediately, allows defendants to assert a good-faith attempt to comply with official guidelines for protecting people. Defendants would have to show gross negligence, a high evidentiary test.

Lawsuits must be filed within one year of, diagnosis, hospitalization, or death. The law would not affect claims already pending.

The band, Highway 85 of Tallahassee, is down from 12 public performances per year to two, according to member David Bowlin. Support crews including sound and lighting techs are also out of work, he said.