TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida House on Friday passed a bill that would shield businesses from lawsuits accusing them negligently spreading COVID-19.

What You Need To Know

  • Florida House approves COVID legal immunity legislation

  • The bill would make it difficult to sue businesses where people think they got COVID

  • Democrats opposed the measure, saying it does not allow a path to seek justice

  • The state Senate could take action on the bill next week

The goal of the legislation, passed on just the fourth day of the 2021 session, is to prevent Florida’s economic recovery from being undermined by a wave of what Republican lawmakers call “frivolous” litigation.

Under the terms of the bill, businesses ranging from restaurants to hair salons would be immune if they can prove they have followed government guidelines on preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“If you want to have a job to go to, responsible businesses have to be able to reopen safely without the fear of getting sued,” Florida Representative Tom Leek (R-Ormond Beach) said.

As for filing lawsuits, customers and workers would be required to get a doctor’s sworn statement that they contracted the virus at the business they want to hold responsible.

Democrats put up fierce debate in opposition to the measure.

“We are still losing people to this pandemic, and those families, if they feel like the business was negligent, should have a path to seek justice,” Representative Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) said.

The bill does not cover hospitals and nursing homes, where nearly a third of Florida’s COVID-19 deaths have taken place.

“I certainly think the business liability bill is easier to deal with, which is why we're dealing with it in Week 1,” Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls (R-Palm Harbor) said.

The state Senate could take up the COVID legal immunity bill as soon as next week, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has pledged to sign the legislation when it hits his desk.