TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida health care providers would be protected from lawsuits claiming their actions led to illness or death caused by the coronavirus under a bill approved by a Senate committee Wednesday.
Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes said his bill is particularly important because of a lack of personal protective equipment and availability of coronavirus tests in the early days of the pandemic as hospitals and long-term care facilities struggled to keep workers and patients safe.
“We have asked them to deal with the pandemic for months without the proper equipment,” Brandes said. “There are many pictures of those in different health care facilities wearing trash bags, wearing homemade masks and shower caps as their personal protective equipment…At the time that was the very best option they had.”
Brandes said health care providers should not be held liable for injuries and death unless they committed gross acts of negligence, such as knowing an employee had tested positive for the virus and still making them work. His bill would give plaintiffs one year to make a claim.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved his bill on a 6-4 vote, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.
Democrats argued that the bill could prevent people from their right to seek damages in court.
“The judicial system is there as a check on illegal activities, for safety, for negligence and to find the truth,” said Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky. “There are good lawyers and bad, there are good nursing homes and bad, but we can’t legislate assuming every lawsuit is frivolous and every lawyer is out to shut down nursing homes.”
Brandes is also sponsoring a separate bill to protect Florida businesses from coronavirus lawsuits if they made a good effort to follow state-issued guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Florida has had 1.8 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and nearly 29,000 deaths caused by the virus, according to state statistics.