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By Michael Carroll
William Large

William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, supported the passage of SB 7014. | Florida Justice Reform Institute

DeSantis moves to extend COVID-19 legal liability shield for health care facilities

By Michael Carroll - Mar 2, 2022

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an extension of COVID-19 legal liability protections for health care providers such as nursing homes last week, gaining applause from business groups and supporters of tort reform alike.

The governor’s action means that the legal liability protections the state has provided to nursing homes, physicians and acute-care facilities will be extended to June 1 of next year. Lawmakers in 2021 approved protections that were set to expire at the end of this month, but the supporters of Senate Bill 7014 say health care workers will remain vulnerable to coronavirus-related lawsuits.

“Governor DeSantis is to be commended for his decisive leadership,” William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, told the Florida Record in an email. “He sought out to protect our heroic health care providers from unwarranted COVID 19 exposure lawsuits. Through sheer will, he was able to get this legislation passed and to his desk for signature.”

The legislation passed the state House of Representatives last month in a 87-31 vote, with many Democrats registering their disapproval. It will continue to help shield health care facilities from civil litigation relating to COVID-19 by raising the pleading requirements for such legal actions. Plaintiffs who file lawsuits over issues relating to coronavirus treatments and care must show the facility or health care professional engaged in gross negligence or purposeful misconduct to win in court, according to an analysis of the bill by the state legislative staff.

Moreover, defendants in such civil litigation can prevail if they show that they were simply following the recommendations of government agencies in treating patients.

The state’s National Federation of Independent Business executive director, Bill Herrle, said Florida health care workers deserve the extended protections provided by SB 7014.

“We can’t afford to have predatory trial attorneys try to exploit the pandemic for financial gain,” Herrle said in a prepared statement. “Doctors, nurses, hospitals and clinics can’t be distracted from their goal of keeping people well so they can work and go about their daily routines.”