Under “normal” circumstances (“normal” being pre-pandemic), if a person or business caused you to be injured or become ill, you could file a personal injury lawsuit against them to recover damages (costs) for your financial losses resulting from the injury.
Financial losses could include medical treatment, lost wages for time off from work during your recovery, and other expenses. They could also include funeral and burial expenses or wrongful death damages if a family member passed away as a result of negligence.
But COVID-19 has changed everything, and cause for a lawsuit is no exception.
In order to avoid a negligence lawsuit, a business must only demonstrate that it made a good effort to follow established COVID-9 guidelines.
In other words, according to the new law, a plaintiff can’t sue a business for failing to protect them from covid infection. The plaintiff has to have been infected with covid because the business deliberately ignored guidelines for covid protection.
This law primarily impacts employees
There have always been — and always will be — certain protections under the law for employee health and safety. For instance, an employer is required to follow certain regulations set forth by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).
Most employees are also covered under workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ comp provides certain benefits if you are injured or become ill at work. Unlike a personal injury lawsuit, workers’ comp doesn’t require an injured employee to prove that anyone (the employer, a coworker, etc.) was negligent. Workers’ compensation insurance, by definition, is no-fault insurance.
But one of the main reasons why it’s very difficult to claim workers’ compensation benefits for contracting COVID-19 at work is because although you don’t need to prove negligence, you do need to prove that you caught the illness within the workplace or while performing work-related tasks.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to show that a coworker tested positive 3 days before you became ill, for instance. With covid now being so widespread, it would be unlikely to prove that you didn’t catch it some other way.
In all likelihood, the only way to prove you caught COVID-19 at work is if you live alone and can prove that you were no other places besides work and home (and you don’t ride public transportation, shop for groceries, or do anything else that would expose you to other people).
Florida Business Liability Shield
Florida’s new law applies to businesses that include corporations, retail, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, government agencies, houses of worship, and other entities.
A defendant is shielded from liability unless the plaintiff can show gross negligence.
The plaintiff would have the burden of proving that the defendant did not make a good faith effort to comply with public health standards. The plaintiff also must file an affidavit from their physician that their illness is directly connected to the defendant’s acts or omissions.
What is gross negligence?
Gross negligence is an act or omission that rises to the level of willful or reckless conduct. Doing the wrong thing, alone, isn’t grossly negligent. It is gross negligence to do the wrong thing egregiously or intentionally.
The law is also retroactive, which means it can apply for any cases of COVID-19 that occurred over the past year, in addition to those that have yet to occur. The statute of limitations on these claims is 1 year from the time it becomes law or from the date of the illness or injury.
At its most basic level, this law says that a business cannot be held liable for an employee or customer’s covid infection as long as the business was taking appropriate precautions based on public health guidance at the time.
Customers who become infected with covid after visiting a business
The law doesn’t just apply to employees — it’s for anyone who is infected with covid after contact with a business.
The lawmakers who voted in favor of the law and advocates say that it allows businesses to focus on their work without worrying about frivolous lawsuits.
Those opposing the bill worry that it gives businesses a “free pass” to skip covid protections, PPE like masks and face shields. They also say that it can deny access to the courts for people who were ill or lost family members to the disease.
What if you become ill at work?
It’s important to remember that this law applies only to COVID-19 illnesses. There are other work-related illnesses and injuries that happen every day, and you should not hesitate to exercise your rights if you’re affected.
If you become ill as a result of conditions in your workplace, your first recourse is to collect benefits through workers’ compensation. For the most part, workers’ compensation is a substitute for a personal injury lawsuit — in fact, it’s designed to keep these types of cases out of court.
However, if workers’ compensation isn’t covering expenses related to your illness or providing the benefits that you believe you deserve, you should consult a workers’ compensation lawyer.
At Lorenzo & Lorenzo, we realize that COVID-19 is anything but normal. The virus has affected every aspect of our lives, from our physical health to mental health to financial health. And we’ve suffered enough.
That’s why if you or a loved one was injured at work in Florida, or were the victim of a car accident, slip and fall, or any type of injury, we want to get you the compensation you need to get back on your feet.