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Doctors seek protection from liability lawsuits as confirmed coronavirus cases increase
The worry stems from the Governor’s Executive Order suspending elective surgeries.

By Ryan Nicol on March 27, 2020

Some doctors are warning the Governor’s Executive Order suspending elective surgeries could cause confusion — and even lawsuits — as Florida continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Governor has said doctors are given some latitude to make the determination of what qualifies as essential or nonessential procedures. Several medical associations are warning that leaving the decision to doctors could open them up to liability.

Ronald F. Giffler, President of the Florida Medical Association, was one of several to call for increased clarity Thursday.

“We ask Gov. DeSantis to immediately consider these medical professional liability protections to allow health care providers to make the necessary decisions without fear of lawsuits as a result of those decisions, under Executive Order No. 20-72,” Giffler said.

The groups proposed some potential paths to protect doctors from liability. One is to issue an Executive Order making doctors “immune to civil liability for any injury or death alleged to have been sustained directly as a result of an act or omission by such health care provider.”

Another option would be to extend the principle of sovereign immunity to health care providers — establishing them as agents of the Department of Health. Sovereign immunity serves to protect government officials from lawsuits stemming from the routine carrying out of government functions.

“The Florida Osteopathic Medical Association (FOMA) joins other providers in seeking guidance under the executive order and believe these suggested solutions will allow physicians to provide much needed care for Florida patients,” added Eric A. Goldsmith, the group’s President.

DeSantis’ original executive order limited elective procedures in order to maintain stockpiles of medical materials needed to treat the increasing rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases.

William Large, President of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, also pushed the Governor to act further in light of doctors’ concerns.

“Gov. DeSantis’ bold leadership on this issue will require medical providers to make tough decisions,” Large said.

 “We’re all in this together, and medical providers’ first priority should be taking care of the sick, not worrying about being sued for trying to comply with a government order in a national emergency.”