At the end of March, Florida joined the roster of states that have erected legal shields for health care providers against COVID-19-oriented liability claims. Concerned about uncertainty surrounding the emergency measures taken in response to COVID-19 and the effects that lawsuits could have on the economic recovery and the ability of health care providers to remain focused on serving the needs of their communities, the Florida Legislature passed CS/SB 72 on March 29, 2021. Governor Ron DeSantis signed CS/SB 72 into law as Laws of Florida 2021-1. This law creates two new statutory provisions – section 768.38 and section 768.381, Florida Statutes – effective on passage.
What Are the Liability Protections?
Section 768.381, Florida Statutes provides protection for health care providers regarding COVID-19-related claims, as follows:
- Complaints alleging claims subject to the law must be pled with particularity, or will be dismissed. This is a higher pleading standard than typically required for a civil complaint, and requires a greater degree of specificity.
- Plaintiffs must prove gross negligence or intentional misconduct. This is a higher standard than ordinary negligence or professional malpractice.
- Health care providers are provided with several affirmative defenses which, if proven, preclude liability. These defenses primarily relate to a provider’s substantial compliance with government-issued standards regarding COVID-19, infectious disease generally in the absence of standards specifically applicable to COVID-19 or the inability to comply with applicable standards in light of medical supply shortages.
- There is a one-year statute of limitations on COVID-19-related claims against health care providers, which is substantially shorter than that for simple and medical negligence claims. When this statute starts to run depends on whether the claim arises out of the transmission, diagnosis, or treatment of COVID-19, or from other circumstances such as a delayed or canceled procedure. Actions for COVID-19 related claims that accrued before the law’s effective date must commence within one year of the effective date.