Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis embarked on a mini-tour to drum up support for protecting large and small companies from COVID-19 lawsuits, an issue likely to move forward in some form with business-lobby support during the 2021 session.
Patronis was in Gainesville on Tuesday, Altamonte Springs and West Palm Beach on Wednesday, and has at least two more appearances next week where he will continue to decry the threat of “trial lawyers” looking to cash in on the crisis.
“We're already seeing trial balloons go up as litigation is developing, with McDonald's, with Walmart, with Amazon, all facing litigation due to COVID-19,” Patronis complained while at Blue Gill Quality Food in Gainesville with local Republican legislators.
“We've got an environment unfortunately, where sue-and-settle tactics become part of the norm,” Patronis, whose family has long owned a restaurant in Panama City Beach, continued. “You get some activist judges, and ultimately what you'll see is the cost of business going up. You'll see interest rates go up as the floodgate of lawsuits come in from, you know, attorneys that go after smaller businesses.”
So far, 21 states have enacted some sort of liability shields for businesses against coronavirus-related lawsuits.
For lawmakers, the issue will require fine-tuning any proposal to avoid granting full immunity to businesses.
“Theoretically, there's probably the made-up version, right, of somebody who's doing something really, really sinister and terrible. I don't think any of us would want to give anyone like that a blank check,” House Speaker Chris Sprowls, a Republican attorney from Palm Harbor, told reporters last month.
Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, also said lawmakers must craft language that balances the needs of “essential” businesses that remained open in March and April, while not letting “people off the hook for negligence.”
— Dara Kam also contributed to this article.