A must-pass bill for Florida’s nursing homes, doctors and hospitals cleared the Florida Senate Wednesday by a mostly partisan 22-13 vote.
Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart voted for the bill, the only member of her party in the chamber to support it.
Sponsored by Sen. Danny Burgess, the bill (SB 7014) extends through June 1, 2023 the protections health care providers currently have from COVID-19-related lawsuits. Senate Democrats all voted against the measure. Four senators have excused absences and did not vote.
The current law that shields businesses and health care providers from COVID-19-related lawsuits was one of the first measures passed by the Legislature during the 2021 Session. The law makes clear that to successfully sue a health care provider for COVID-19, the plaintiff must prove gross negligence or intentional misconduct.
While general businesses were provided indefinite immunity liability protections, health care providers were afforded such protection only through March 2022. House Speaker Chris Sprowls pushed for the limit on health care-related lawsuits. But as of publication, no House companion bill has been filed extending the liability protections.
Hospital and nursing home providers released statements thanking the Senate for passing the bill.
Florida Health Care Association spokesperson Kristen Knapp said the extended protections will help ensure the nursing centers can maintain the resources needed to keep their focus on resident safety and high quality health care.
“The pandemic has placed a tremendous burden on our state’s nursing centers and assisted living communities, and we’re still delivering care in a challenging environment. In the midst of this recent omicron surge, the guidance continues to change rapidly for our caregivers,” Knapp said in a statement. “At a time when our long-term care providers are experiencing financial and workforce challenges of historic proportions, sue-and-settle lawsuits will only make matters worse.”
The FHCA represents most of the state’s 690 nursing homes.
Florida Justice Reform Institute President William Large focuses his lobbying efforts on tort-related issues. Large said in a statement the Senate should be commended for passing protections for “our beleaguered health care providers that are dealing with the impacts of omicron, labor shortages and COVID-19 lawsuits.”
The state’s largest hospital association also issued a statement following the Senate vote to pass the bill.
“It’s been a year since the Legislature and the Governor signed SB 72 into law, during which our hospitals and health care providers have contended with additional surges of the pandemic and a severe workforce shortage,” Florida Hospital Association (FHA) President and CEO Mary Mayhew said. “FHA engaged with members of the Legislature and supported SB 7014 to protect our members from unfounded lawsuits during a time when stress on the system is already so high.”
The bill is a tacit acknowledgment that the COVID-19 pandemic remains an ongoing concern even as legislators and Gov. Ron DeSantis have pushed laws and policies designed to keep businesses and local governments from imposing mandates and lockdowns.
The House Health and Human Services Committee voted last week to introduce a committee bill to extend the lawsuit protections. HB 7021 will next be heard by the House Judiciary Committee.
Burgess’ bill extends the existing law through June 1, 2023, the same expiration date included in other recently enacted laws relating to COVID-19. That includes one law that bans Florida employers from requiring their staff to get vaccinated without giving employees at least five different avenues to opt out.