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Florida House Panel Revamps COVID Health Liability Bill

New signage greets visitors to the Florida capitol complex. Photo: Lynn Hatter  / WFSU News
WFSU
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The Senate Rules Committee will take up the Senate version of the bill Thursday.

The Judiciary Committee agreed to lower a burden of proof plaintiffs would need to meet and scrapping a requirement that plaintiffs obtain affidavits from physicians before lawsuits could proceed.

A House panel on Wednesday revamped a proposal (HB 7005) that would provide COVID-19 lawsuit protections to nursing homes and other health care providers, agreeing to lower a burden of proof plaintiffs would need to meet and scrapping a requirement that plaintiffs obtain signed affidavits from physicians before medical-related lawsuits could proceed.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 15-5 to pass the bill, which now can go to the full House. It is substantially different from a Senate version (SB 74), and the chambers would have to negotiate an agreement.

With the changes Wednesday, the House bill would require that plaintiffs with COVID-19-related medical claims prove by the “greater weight of the evidence” that health care providers were grossly negligent or engaged in intentional misconduct.

The bill initially would have required plaintiffs to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that health care providers were grossly negligent or engaged in intentional misconduct, a more-difficult bar to reach.

The amended bill also no longer contains a proposed requirement that plaintiffs would need affidavits from physicians that the injuries were the result of the defendants’ actions.

Bill opponents said that proposed requirement was unrealistic, would drive up the costs of litigation and put physicians in an untenable position of attesting to something they aren’t qualified to weigh in on.

In addition to shielding health care providers from medical-related COVID-19 litigation, the bill also would give doctors, hospitals federally qualified health centers and physicians protections from non-medical negligence claims.

In part, the bill would require plaintiffs in non-medical lawsuits to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendants’ behavior amounted to gross negligence. And the bill contains a provision that would allow judges to determine whether defendants made a “good faith effort” to substantially comply with government-issued health standards or guidance in effect at the time the injuries occurred.

The Senate Rules Committee will take up the Senate version of the bill Thursday.