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Get the latest coverage of the 2021 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

State Senate Proposes Lawsuit Relief For Health Care Providers

A health care worker holds a swab used for COVID-19 testing at the ProHEALTH testing site in Jericho, N.Y., March 24, 2020.
Steve Pfost
Newsday RM via Getty Images
A health care worker holds a swab used for COVID-19 testing at the ProHEALTH testing site in Jericho, N.Y., March 24, 2020.

Health care providers would be given protections from some COVID-19-related lawsuits, under a proposal released Wednesday by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

The measure (SB 74) was immediately praised by the state’s largest nursing home group, the Florida Health Care Association. The organization has been calling for increased lawsuit protections since last summer.

“Our health care heroes should be celebrated for the life-saving decisions they continue to make to protect our loved ones, not worried about the threat of lawsuits for delivering care during a crisis they did not create,” FHCA President Emmett Reed said in a prepared statement.

A House companion bill is expected to be filed shortly.

“The Florida House recognizes the challenges faced by our frontline defense in the fight against COVID-19,” House Health & Human Services Chairwoman Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, said in a prepared statement issued Wednesday.

Burton said House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, has asked her committee to author the legislation.

“We recognize the extraordinary circumstances that our health care providers have been placed in and want to make sure their judgment is not unnecessarily second guessed. We look forward to sharing our bill in the next few days,” she said.

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.”

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.”

Brandes’ proposal would give hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, doctors and other health care providers protections from COVID-19-related liability claims.

COVID-19 claims are defined in Brandes' bill as civil liability claims that allege health care providers “failed to follow clinical authoritative or government-issued health standards relating to COVID-19” or “failed to properly interpret or apply 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 Senate measure also would make it harder for plaintiffs to win lawsuits, raising the bar of proof from simple negligence to gross negligence.

The bill also would give health care providers immunity from COVID-19-related claims if “supplies, materials, equipment, or personnel necessary to comply with the applicable government-issued health standards or guidance at issue were not readily available or were not available at a reasonable cost.”

Copyright 2021 Health News Florida

Christine Sexton - News Service of Florida
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