Florida’s New Anti-Riot Bill: Surprising Implications for Miami Premises Liability Cases

Amid both fanfare and controversy, a recent anti-riot bill was passed by Florida lawmakers and signed into law on April 19, 2021. NBC Miami News Channel 6 outlined some of the key points of the Combating Public Disorder Act, which aims to crack down on violent, unlawful misconduct stemming from civil unrest. Proponents have argued that the new law protects businesses and supports law enforcement when peaceful protests turn into physical aggression and illegal criminal activity. Opponents contend that the anti-riot law disproportionately affects minorities and amounts to racism, in addition to being a restriction on First Amendment free speech rights.

Regardless of your view of the anti-riot statute in Florida, there are implications that you may not expect if you are pursuing a negligent property owner after being injured. One provision may benefit your claim, while another imposes significant limitations on your legal rights. Your Miami premises liability attorney can describe the implications, but an overview of the anti-riot law may be helpful.

The GOOD: Elimination of a key barrier to civil claims. Government bodies and agencies enjoy sovereign immunity, a legal concept that provides these entities with protection from civil lawsuits. For instance, you typically cannot sue the City of Miami if you slip and fall on municipal property. The anti-riot bill strips sovereign immunity from any government body that interferes with law enforcement in protecting the public during civil unrest. In other words, you could sue Miami if the city defunds the police, and you were subsequently hurt during a riot.

The BAD: A new defense for property owners. Another provision in the anti-riot statute could work to your detriment under certain circumstances. If you were participating in a riot when you were injured on property, the owner can claim an affirmative defense to defeat your claim. However, the at-fault property or business owner may have some challenges in proving this affirmative defense. The party must have evidence:

  • That the gathering of individuals was a riot, and NOT a peaceful protest that would be considered protected speech; AND,
  • That you were actively participating in the riot, a factor that can be difficult since your presence alone would not necessarily be involvement in it.

The UNKNOWN: A constitutional challenge has already been filed. The ink had barely dried on the new anti-riot law before several groups sued on constitutional grounds. Plaintiffs argue that the provisions on criminal activity violate the First Amendment free speech and 14th Amendment due process rights. Still, even if the lawsuit succeeds, it may only invalidate the criminal provisions. The sections described above related to civil suits may not be affected.

Get More Information from Our Miami Personal Injury Lawyers

It may be some time before a court issues an opinion on the constitutionality of the anti-riot bill, which became effective the date it was signed on April 19, 2021. Because of the implications for a premise liability case, it is important to work with our experienced attorneys at Gerson & Schwartz, PA. For more information, please contact our offices in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or West Palm Beach, FL to set up a no-cost consultation.

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