The House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill on Monday that would create COVID-19 liability protections for health care providers.
The committee OK’d the measure (HB 7005) with a 15-5 vote. Rep. Colleen Burton, a Lakeland Republican, is the bill sponsor.
Burton’s proposal would create legal shields for health care providers who make a “good faith effort” to follow government health guidelines.
It would also raise the bar for plaintiffs who file COVID-19 related lawsuits against health care providers. The bill further ups the evidentiary standards to a “greater weight of evidence” and requires a plaintiff to prove that a provider acted with gross negligence.
The committee advanced the bill with little question and debate.
Proponents contend that health care providers such as hospitals and nursing homes navigated the pandemic’s early stages with conflicting health guidance and limited supplies.
They fear predatory lawsuits are a looming threat against Florida’s health care community.
“Health care is a challenging profession in the best of circumstances,” Burton said. “I would say that today, in the practice of health care, there has never been a more challenging time in their profession than during this last year.”
Critics, meanwhile, argue that sufficient laws are already on the books. They contend the proposal would go too far and provide health care providers near blanket immunity.
Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond of Tampa questioned Burton briefly. He expressed concerns over the bill’s “broad language.”
Critics also lament that the bill would require a plaintiff to provide a signed affidavit from a physician that attests that COVID-19 related damages or death resulted from the defendant’s action or inaction.
They further note the measure offers no protections to workers or residents.
Burton’s proposal comes after the House passed a bill (HB 7) that offers protections to businesses, churches, and schools.
Republican leadership including Gov. Ron DeSantis champion the protections, praising them as a needed ingredient in Florida’s economic recovery.
Plaintiffs would be allowed a one-year period to bring a COVID-19-related claim after a death, hospitalization or diagnosis under the bill.
If passed, the bill would take effect immediately.