Florida capitol in Tallahassee

The Florida State Capitol building. (Credit: traveler1116 / Getty Images)

Florida senior living leaders are welcoming news that COVID-19 liability protections may be extended for long-term care facilities still in the midst of the pandemic.

The Florida Senate Rules Committee moved SB 7014 forward for consideration, and the state House is taking up HHS 1. The bills would extend COVID-19 liability protections for assisted living communities, nursing homes, hospitals and physicians through June 1, 2023 — the same expiration date included in other recently enacted laws related to the pandemic.  

Current law shielding businesses and healthcare providers from COVID-19-related lawsuits was passed in early 2021. Although general businesses were provided indefinite immunity liability protections, healthcare provider protections are scheduled to sunset in March.

Florida Assisted Living Association CEO Veronica Catoe told McKnight’s Senior Living that the organization’s members have been on the front lines throughout the pandemic, and she is grateful that the Florida Senate Rules Committee and the House Health and Human Services Committee both passed bills this week to extend the sunset provision for healthcare COVID-19 legal liability protections.

“It was a great relief when the legislature passed, and Gov. (Ron) DeSantis signed into law, landmark legislation last year protecting honest and caring assisted living facilities acting in good faith from opportunistic and frivolous litigation while caring for and protecting their resident seniors and staff during this unprecedented pandemic,” she said.

Florida Health Care Association Senior Director of Strategy and Communication Kristen Knapp told McKnight’s Senior Living that the pandemic has placed a “tremendous burden” on the state’s assisted living communities and nursing centers, which are continuing to deal with “rapidly changing” guidance in the midst of the omicron surge. 

“At a time when our long-term care providers are experiencing financial and workforce challenges of historic proportions, sue-and-settle lawsuits will only make matters worse,” Knapp said. “These extended protections will ensure that our care centers can maintain the resources they need to keep focusing on resident safety and delivering high-quality care.”

Florida Senior Living Association President and CEO Gail Matillo said extending the protection is “critical” to the industry.

“The Florida legislature made the right call to protect Florida’s frontline senior living providers from a tidal wave of litigation,” Matillo told McKnight’s Senior Living. “Especially in a time of crisis, our providers should be allowed to focus on helping people and not worry about being sued.”

The liability protections for COVID-19-related claims against a healthcare provider mainly relate to claims arising from the diagnosis or treatment of a person with coronavirus, the provision of a novel or experimental treatment, transmission of the virus, and the delay or cancellation of a surgery or medical procedure.

The original bill, which the Florida Senior Living Association worked on with lawmakers, required plaintiffs to provide “sufficient detail” that a provider was grossly negligent or engaged in intentional misconduct that caused death or harm. The bill also provides immunity for claims related to supplies or personnel not readily available or not available at reasonable cost to comply with COVID-19 standards.

According to LeadingAge, Arizona, Indiana, Montana, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota and Texas provide liability protections for healthcare providers and healthcare facilities during the declared COVID-19 public health emergency

California clarifies that a licensee is liable for up to $500 per violation when a current or former long-term care facility resident brings a civil action for violating the Patient’s Bill of Rights or any other federal or state rights. 

The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care also tracks state immunity laws and executive orders relating to long-term care. Several states that provided liability protections to long-term care, including assisted living communities, let those protections lapse during 2021, including Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Nebraska, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont. Other protections are set to expire this year, including Florida, Georgia, Idaho, South Dakota and Tennessee.