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

COVID-19 Health Care Liability Legislation Passes First Committee

Photo: National Cancer Institute
Photo: National Cancer Institute

The measure passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee would give hospitals, nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, doctors and other providers protections from COVID-related liability claims.

A Florida Senate committee on Wednesday approved legislation that would help shield health care providers from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

The measure (HB74) passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, 6-4, would give hospitals, nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, doctors and other health care providers protections from COVID-19-related liability claims.

Under the bill, COVID-19 claims are defined as civil liability claims that allege health care providers failed to follow clinical authoritative or government-issued health standards relating to COVID-19.

The measure also would make it harder for plaintiffs to win lawsuits, raising the bar of proof from simple negligence to gross negligence.

Committee chair Sen. Jeff Brandes. R- St. Petersburg, is sponsoring the legislation.

“We are asking, in this piece of legislation, that we protect our health care industry that has gone over and above the call of duty in order to protect and serve every resident of the state who needed help,” he said.

Opponents of the measure, including Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, said the lawsuit immunity goes too far.

“We can’t legislate assuming every lawsuit is frivolous, and every lawyer is out to shut down nursing homes," Polsky said. "There are many instances of where a health care provider is doing a better job because of a prior lawsuit or fear of a lawsuit.”

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 were not readily available or were not available at a reasonable cost.

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.

The House Health & Human Services Committee is expected to consider its version of the bill (PCB HHS 21-01) next week.

The House and Senate bills have significant differences on issues such as how long legal protections should be in effect and types of lawsuits that would be limited. Ultimately, they would have to agree on a final version.

Information from News Service of Florida was used in this report.

WMFE Staff
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