Tallahassee, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – “I want to talk to you about something I’ve heard repeatedly from the businesses I’ve talked to this year,” said Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, “the fear of reopening with open-ended liability based on people contracting COVID-19.”
During a session on the opening day of the Workers’ Compensation Institute’s virtual Cyber Forum 2020, Patronis said the pandemic has created many new anxieties and unprecedented challenges for employers and employees. Business owners are telling him the concerns may keep them from reopening.
“As we ask employers and not-for-profits to provide new equipment, reduced capacity, social distancing, and incur new expenses for sanitization, government agencies sometimes are providing conflicting guidance and there is unknown liabilities. Folks already operating on thin margins are moving fast to meet customer needs and trying to protect their employees in addition to their customers. That’s a real balancing act for employers,” he said. “So, if a business does all the things we ask them to do, we ask them to follow CDC guidelines to the letter of the law, should they still be open to litigation?”
Patronis said he is “on record” as promoting legislation that addresses liability shields for Florida businesses. He said he’ll need a coalition of stakeholders to help craft legislation for the legislature’s 2021 session.
“I want to help shield businesses, good actors from frivolous lawsuits and sue-and-settle tactics that end up costing us all more money, including impacts to our insurance rates,” he said. “At the same time. we cannot allow this cause to be weighed down by businesses looking to cut corners, avoid shouldering their fair share against the fight against COVID. I won’t be able to do this alone.”
A number of states have considered measures to protect businesses from liability lawsuits associated with COVID-19 exposure or contraction. Ohio became one of the latest to adopt such legislation when Gov. Mike DeWine signed H.B. 606 earlier this week.
While opponents have argued that liability protections lower the bar in terms of protecting employees and customers, advocates say the measures will help speed economic recovery.
“We need to get people back to work,” Patronis said. “We cannot allow our state’s recovery to be inhibited by the constant threat of lawsuits.”