TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A legislative push to extend protections for health workers another year to avoid COVID-19 liability lawsuits is on its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis to sign.
The bill builds on the protections for health workers and hospitals passed in 2021 to prevent lawsuits for liability related to “damages, injury, or death,” according to the law passed last year, Senate Bill 72.
As written and passed, SB 72 required that plaintiffs suing in court over damages related to COVID-19 retain the burden of proof, and set a time limit for when health workers or providers could be sued. The current version of the liability protections gave health care providers, businesses and other workers until March 29, 2022 for protection from civil liability lawsuits.
As passed and added to state statutes, SB 72 defined a health care provider as any provider included in state definitions for health care administration set in Florida Statute s.408.803, as well as those providing services in a clinical laboratory, federal qualified health centers, licensed health workers, and those working in pharmacies and continuing care facilities or providing clinical and nonclinical inpatient and outpatient services. This included home health aides, as well as those working in COVID-19-specific health services.
By law, defendants only had to prove they made a “good faith effort to substantially comply with” government-set health standards or guidance when a death, injury, or damage occurred. Should a defendant prove they made said effort, the law gives them immunity from civil liability in the dates specified.
While a good faith effort provides immunity, the law also set a requirement that plaintiffs provide “clear and convincing evidence” of “at least gross negligence” to move forward with their COVID-19-related claim. If a plaintiff cannot, the defendant is still protected from liability.
The new bill, Senate Bill 7014, would extend those protections an additional 14 months, to June 1, 2023, should DeSantis sign it into law, or take no actions against it, since it has been enrolled after passing on partisan lines in both legislative chambers.
If signed, it takes effect immediately upon becoming law.