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Senate committee votes to extend COVID-19 liability protections for health-care providers

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Sen. Danny Burgess

Sen. Danny Burgess

A Senate panel has voted to extend COVID-19 liability protections for health-care providers for approximately another year.

When they voted to protect health-care providers from pandemic-related lawsuits earlier this year, lawmakers imposed a one-year sunset provision that tolls at the end of March 2022.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-4 on November 30 to approve SB 7014 by Chair Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills and an attorney.

The measure would extend the sunset provision approximately 14 months, until June 1, 2023. The measure moves next to the Senate floor. A House companion has yet to be filed.

“As our frontline workers are out there doing God’s work,” Burgess said, “let’s make sure they’re not looking over their shoulders.”

Among other things, the new law requires plaintiffs to allege facts in sufficient detail to satisfy each element of their claim, and prove, by a greater weight of the evidence, that the defendant acted with gross negligence or engaged in willful misconduct.

Supporters, including House and Senate leaders and Gov. Ron DeSantis, said the measure was necessary to protect frontline health-care providers who were forced to deal with staff and equipment shortages in the face of deadly disease.

Critics, including the trial attorney group, Florida Justice Association, argued the protections would bar legitimate claims and put patients and nursing home residents at increased risk.

FJA board member Stephen Cain, noting that the spread of COVID-19 has slowed significantly in Florida, urged the committee not to extend the liability protections.

“Florida’s open for business,” Cain said. “We shouldn’t be helping health-care providers by allowing this extension of immunity.”

Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg and an attorney, asked Cain to elaborate.

“Do you mean to say that they are protecting bad actors as well as good actors?” Rouson said.

“Absolutely,” Cain said.

But Orlando attorney Robin Khanal, who represents nursing homes, argued that the courts have yet to interpret the new provisions, and that plaintiffs can still file claims.

However, he said, the law appears to be performing as sponsors intended.

“It has worked to deter unfounded lawsuits,” he said.

The 60-day legislative session convenes January 11.

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