ORANGE COUNTY, Fla.  —  For local businesses still recovering amid the pandemic, a new law shielding them from COVID-related lawsuits is reason to celebrate. 

“It makes me feel a little more comfortable that I’m protected," said Thomas Ward, who founded Pig Floyd’s Urban Barbakoa.

What You Need To Know

  • Central Florida businesses welcome approval of COVID shield law

  • The measure allows them to put focus on health of staff, customers, leaders say

  • The law requires people suing to show COVID safety guidelines were deliberately ignored.

  • Businesses have had to deal with frivolous litigation in past, owners say

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis put pen to paper and signed Senate Bill 72 (SB 72) into law this week. It requires the person suing to show a business or health-care provider deliberately ignored COVID-19 safety guidelines.

“Anybody can come in here and say they grabbed COVID at the restaurant, sue you and get a settlement,” Ward said. “That’s what I really felt uncomfortable with due to the fact that we live in a litigious society."

The COVID-19 liability bill garnered widespread support from various tourism-related entities, from the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association to the Orlando Economic Partnership. 

“As advocates for the business community, the Orlando Economic Partnership applauds the passage of the Civil Liability for Damages Relating to COVID-19 legislation," Orlando Economic Partnership President and Chief Executive Officer Tim Giuliani said. "This important new law will give all businesses — who have been working hard to keep their doors open, employees paid, and customers safe during this pandemic — the protection they need from unnecessary lawsuits so they can continue to fuel our region’s economic recovery.”

HDG Hotels' Lisa Lombardo said that hotels, too, needed protection, which this bill provides. 

“A little remnant of drive-by lawsuits that our industry has been victim of in the past," she said. “For the hotel industry, and so many industries in hospitality, sanitation and cleanliness is not a new industry standard. To have this cloud of doubt lifted... the presumption is we are living up to, whether it's a brand standard or just doing the right thing by our guests.” 

The bill was not without opposition. Democrats worried about blanket immunity issues and that people who suffered from coronavirus would not be able to get legal recourse.

Yet, for small business owners like Ward, it allows his focus to be on the safety of staff and diners, not on litigation. It's something he said that he has had to deal with in the past.

“We’ve had frivolous lawsuits for slip-and-falls and stuff like that. And obviously insurance companies like to settle and your premium goes up," Ward explained.  "For us, that meant the premium went up $4,000 in one year. I mean, it’s a big hit.”