Florida State Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), today filed Senate Bill 74, COVID-19-related Claims Against Health Care Providers. The bill offers strong protections from civil liability for health care providers working to serve Floridians in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“So many of our hardworking and dedicated health care providers have been on the front lines of this pandemic from day one, putting their own health in jeopardy to help others,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby). “The last thing we want is for health care providers, who do the right thing, to face a constant threat of frivolous lawsuits that hamper their ability to serve their patients.”
“No industry in Florida has been as heavily impacted during COVID-19 as our health care providers. They struggled to meet evolving standards and often found themselves desperate for resources – to the point where trash bags, shower caps, and homemade masks became PPE, as they were asked to MacGyver their way through this pandemic,” said Senator Brandes. “In many cases, these health-care providers were required to make a judgment call with often times limited or conflicting guidance. In a situation like COVID-19, where non-urgent medical procedures were temporarily put on hold, every situation cannot be anticipated. We want our health care providers making the judgment that a procedure is either urgent or a non-emergency to be protected from unfair lawsuits for these decisions. This bill makes certain our laws support applying judgment calls in these situations and many others.”
The bill requires a plaintiff who files a COVID-19-related lawsuit to prove by clear and convincing evidence 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 be pled with particularity by alleging 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. The 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.
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 1 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.
Senate Bill 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.