Legislation to protect health care providers from COVID-related lawsuits was passed today by the Florida Senate Committee on Judiciary.
Senate Bill (SB) 74, COVID-19-related Claims Against Health Care Providers is sponsored by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), who also chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. It offers strong protections from civil liability for health care providers working to serve Floridians in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“Our frontline health care workers are the heroes of this pandemic, and they are doing the best they can in the midst of these unprecedented times. It’s hard enough to make the day-to-day judgement calls that impact the health of their fellow Floridians during normal circumstances, but during this pandemic our health care professionals have had to make these decisions in the midst of rapidly changing guidance and protocols. We must do everything we can to protect these heroes from frivolous lawsuits,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby).
“A year ago, we were just learning about this disease in a far off country. Since then, more than 1.8 million Floridians have tested positive for COVID-19. We have radically transformed our way of life, making adjustments we would not have even contemplated just one year ago,” said Brandes. “Through it all, our health care providers have made incredible sacrifices. Physicians have been asked to make very difficult choices to delay surgeries and procedures to preserve PPE and other supplies. Nursing homes were asked to keep their doors open and maintain staffing levels. Around the country, we have lost thousands of health care workers who have struggled with this. This legislation protects a healthcare industry that has gone over and above the call of duty to protect and help our citizens.”
Opponents of the bill, including Orlando superlawyer John Morgan, don’t refer to the healthcare industry in such glowing terms. He has ripped efforts to limit liability, especially among nursing homes, which he says don’t deserve any liability protections.
“Covid swept this country because nursing homes are filthy murder factories and have been for years,” Morgan wrote in sharply-worded email to The Capitolist last week. “Half of all COVID deaths occurred there. So yeah, let’s give them immunity to keep killing our parents and grandparents. Sounds like a worthy project for the chamber of commerce.”
The bill requires a plaintiff who files a COVID-19-related lawsuit to prove that a health care provider’s conduct constituted gross negligence or intentional misconduct. The protections apply specifically to acts or omissions made in reliance upon government-issued health standards or guidance relating to COVID-19.
Under the bill, a health care provider has strong liability protections when the provider substantially follows authoritative or applicable government-issued heath standards or guidance related to COVID-19. The provider is also entitled to strong liability protections when interpreting or applying the standards or guidance with respect to the provision of health care or related services, or lack thereof, or the allocation of scarce resources or assistance with daily living.
The bill establishes procedures to filter out claims that have insufficient factual support. For example, under the bill a complaint must allege facts in sufficient detail to support each element of the claim. A court must dismiss the plaintiff’s lawsuit if it is not sufficiently detailed.
The bill provides a one-year limitation period to bring a COVID-19-related claim against a health care provider.
Current law provides different procedures for negligence claims against nursing homes and assisted living facilities than for other types of health care providers, such as doctors and hospitals. The bill provides that its provisions will apply to all heath care providers with respect to COVID-19-related claims.
The bill would take effect upon becoming a law and applies retroactively except to defendants named in lawsuits filed before the effective date of the bill. The liability protections will apply until one year after the termination or expiration of the state public health emergency relating to COVID-19, which was declared by the State Surgeon General, or any nationwide emergency declaration by the Federal Government, whichever is later.
SB 72, Civil Liability for Damages Relating to COVID-19, which would protect businesses safely reopening during the COVID-19 Pandemic, passed the Senate Committee on Judiciary last week.