Legislation that would protect healthcare providers from some COVID-19-related lawsuits has been introduced into the Florida State Senate.
Filed on Feb. 3 by State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), SB 74 provides preliminary procedures for civil actions connected to COVID-19-related claims, requires a standard of proof for such claims, and makes some healthcare providers immune from liability for some COVID-19 related claims.
The measure follows Brandes’ introduction of SB 72, the Civil Liability For Damages Relating to COVID-19. That bill would protect businesses, charities, educational institutions, “governmental entities” and religious institutions from opportunistic COVID-19-related claims. It was passed by the Florida Senate’s Judiciary Committee last month.
Specifically, 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.
In addition, the bill establishes procedures to filter out claims that have insufficient factual support and requires that a COVID-19-related claim against a health care provider be brought within one year of the alleged occurrence. According to the bill, that “period starts one year after the later of the date of death due to COVID-19, hospitalization related to COVID-19, or the first diagnosis of COVID-19.”
Steve Bahmer, Florida president and chief executive officer (CEO) of LeadingAge, a group that advocates for high-quality senior living, aging services, and care, welcomed the proposed legislation.
“This bill is the first step in giving providers the confidence and protection needed to continue providing the highest quality of care for Florida’s seniors in the midst of an ongoing pandemic,” he said.
If passed, SB 74 would be effective upon becoming law and applies retroactively except to defendants named in lawsuits filed before the effective date of the bill.
The liability protections would 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.
The measure was referred to the Senate’s Judiciary; Health Policy and Rules committees for review.