Senate bill proposes COVID-19 liability protections for health care providers

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The bill is the latest proposal expanding liability protections.

Sen. Jeff Brandes filed a bill Thursday that would extend COVID-19 liability protections to Florida health care providers.

The legislation, (SB 74), would raise the bar for COVID-19 related lawsuits against all health care providers. It’s a response to another COVID-19 liability protection bill protecting businesses that does not extend to health care providers.

Plaintiffs would need to prove a provider acted with “gross negligence or intentional misconduct.” 

The proposal also extends protections to providers who “substantially” followed government-issued health standards and guidance. 

Senate President Wilton Simpson signaled support for the measure.

“So many of our hardworking and dedicated health care providers have been on the front lines of this pandemic from day one, putting their own health in jeopardy to help others,” Simpson said. “The last thing we want is for health care providers, who do the right thing, to face a constant threat of frivolous lawsuits that hamper their ability to serve their patients.”

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis also threw his support behind liability protections for Florida’s long-term care providers this week, saying that, without liability protections, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities are reluctant to reopen their doors to visitors.

“I don’t want them to say we can’t do all this stuff because we’re scared of getting sued,” DeSantis said Tuesday. “The fact is they’ve got the vaccines in there. I think we need to give them every protection to return to normal. I think that would be really, really good.”

Brandes’ proposal would provide protections to providers who operated with limited supplies and resources.

Brandes, a Tampa Bay Republican, noted that providers navigated unprecedented circumstances during the pandemic’s early stages, often with limited supplies.

“No industry in Florida has been as heavily impacted during COVID-19 as our health care providers,” Brandes said. “They struggled to meet evolving standards and often found themselves desperate for resources — to the point where trash bags, shower caps, and homemade masks became PPE, as they were asked to MacGyver their way through this pandemic.”

“In a situation like COVID-19, where non-urgent medical procedures were temporarily put on hold, every situation cannot be anticipated. We want our health care providers making the judgment that a procedure is either urgent or a non-emergency to be protected from unfair lawsuits for these decisions.”

Brandes’ bill further seeks to filter claims without sufficient evidence.

“A complaint must be pled with particularity by alleging facts in sufficient detail to support each element of the claim,” a news release said. “A court must dismiss the plaintiff’s lawsuit if it is not sufficiently detailed.”

LeadingAge Florida, an association representing long-term care facilities, called the bill the first step to give health care providers confidence to practice during the pandemic.

“(Staff’s) tireless work to provide high quality care has been challenged by a lack of protective equipment, as well as ever-changing protocols and conflicting recommendations from federal, state and local agencies,” the group said in a statement. “These factors have hampered COVID-19 efforts even in the highest quality long term care facilities in the state.”

If passed, the bill would allow plaintiffs a one-year period to bring a COVID-19-related claim after a death, hospitalization or diagnosis. The protections would remain in effect until one year after the state and federal government end the public health emergency declaration.

If signed into law, the bill would take effect immediately and apply retroactively. 

The Republican-dominated Legislature has made lawsuit limitations for Florida businesses, ranging from supermarkets to nursing homes, a priority for the 2021 Legislative Session that begins March 2.

As committees meet in advance of the session, both the House and Senate already have fast-tracked identical bills that would give broad protections to non-health care businesses that “substantially comply” with government-issued health standards or guidance.

The bills (HB 7, SB 72) also would make it harder to win lawsuits, raising the bar of proof from simple negligence to gross negligence and upping evidentiary standards from the current “greater weight of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.”

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The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. Republished with permission.

Jason Delgado

Jason Delgado covers news out of the state capital for Florida Politics. After a stint with the U.S. Army, Jason attended the University of Central Florida where he studied American Policy and National Security. His past bylines include WMFE-NPR and POLITICO Florida. Throw him a line at [email protected] or on Twitter at @byJasonDelgado.



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