A Florida Senate panel on Tuesday voted 7-4 in favor of a measure to extend pandemic-related legal protections for hospitals, nursing homes, and likewise healthcare facilities.
Senate Proposal Bill 7014 (SPB 7014) would help protect health providers from lawsuits regarding COVID-19 until June 1, 2023. Legislature passed a bill in spring 2021 that offered the protections for one year, though this period is set to expire March 29, 2022.
Providers can still be faced with COVID-19 lawsuits, but the bill proposal requires a higher standard of proof for plaintiffs. Those seeking legal action will need to prove that the health care provider was clearly negligent or engaged in intentional misconduct.
“The liability protections require a plaintiff to: satisfy heightened pleading requirements of alleging facts in sufficient detail to support each element of his or her claim, prove by the greater weight of the evidence that the health care provider was grossly negligent or engaged in intentional misconduct, and overcome any affirmative defense,” the bill analysis and fiscal impact statement declared.
The bill was backed by numerous health providers and business organizations, such as the Florida Hospital Association, the Florida Medical Association, the Florida Osteopathic Medical Association, LeadingAge Florida, the Florida Senior Living Association, the Florida Assisted Living Association, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida, according to News Service Florida.
“This bill extends the length of time, or application period, that a health care provider receives certain liability protections for COVID-19-related claims. Pursuant to legislation passed in 2021, the application period applies to claims accruing before March 29, 2022. SPB 7014 extends the application period of the liability protections from March 29, 2022 to June 1, 2023,” the text of the bill said.
All 4 votes against the bill came from Democrats: Sen. Tina Polsky (Boca Raton), Sen. Audrey Gibson (Jacksonville), Sen. Perry E. Thurston (Ft. Lauderdale), and Sen. Darryl Rouson (St. Petersburg).
“It’s kind of ironic that two weeks ago we sat in a special session and voted not to require vaccines for employees. What’s going on in health care is that the staff is not fully vaccinated, it’s the staff coming in and out of nursing homes that are the potential spreaders,” said Sen. Polsky. “We are not using every tool in our toolbox, which right now is the vaccine.”
SPB 7014 is likely to pass through the Senate in January with Republicans holding a 24-16 majority.