Understanding S.B. 72:  How These COVID-19 Liability Protections Affect Your Rights

The COVID-19 pandemic affected millions of people across the country. Senior citizens that were placed in long-term care facilities faced some of the greatest challenges.

The disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on the elderly residents of long-term care facilities is part of the reason that Florida’s S.B. 72 bill was met with such ire. Chances are that you may have encountered multiple stories about this “lawsuit protection bill” on your local news feed.

If a loved one was living in a long-term care facility during the pandemic and suffered an injury, then you may have grounds for legal compensation. However, it is essential that you understand the potential legal ramifications of this recent bill.

Below, we explain what this bill is and how it may impact your ability to file a personal injury claim. Our goal is to shed some light on this new Florida law so that you can better understand your rights.

With that being said, the best course of action when you or a loved one has been injured is to seek legal counsel from a personal injury attorney. The attorneys at The Ruth Law Team can provide you with a free case review and help you decide how to proceed.

What is S.B. 72?

Senate Bill 72 addresses “civil liability for damages relating to COVID-19.” S.B. 72 was signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at the end of March 2021. S.B. 72 created Florida Statute 768.38.

The new law will be in place until March 29, 2022. If legislators want to extend it, then they will have to pass new provisions. The bill provides coronavirus-related legal protections for a variety of businesses, including long-term care facilities and health care providers.

According to Florida State Senator Jeff Brandes, the purported goal of the bill is to prevent a “tidal wave” of coronavirus-related personal injury lawsuits. He went on to say that “health-care providers should have some protection” if gross negligence cannot be proven.

Simply put, the law sets forth new rules for personal injury lawsuits that are related to COVID-19. Unless your claim specifically involves allegations of medical malpractice or direct violations of long-term care residents’ rights, then you must provide proof that the defendants caused the damages or injuries.

Does S.B. 72 Affect All Personal Injury Claims?

This new statute is designed to address coronavirus-related personal injury claims specifically. This does not mean that a savvy defense attorney will not attempt to attribute a particular injury to side effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

For instance, if your loved one suffered from a pressure sore that became infected, the defense may assert that the long-term care facility was understaffed due to COVID-19.

The new law states that “the complaint must be pled with particularity.” This means that you must list the circumstances that allegedly contributed to your loved one’s injury.

In addition, the statute says that the plaintiff is responsible to turn in a signed affidavit from a doctor that is licensed in the state that can show the provider’s belief that the damages were a result of acts or omissions of the defendant.

As you can see, the statue substantially raises the bar for filing a claim that is related to the coronavirus pandemic. If your claim does not meet both parts of the requirements detailed above, then the courts are required to dismiss the action immediately. Again, this does not apply to non-coronavirus-related personal injury claims.

Can I Still File a COVID-19 Related Claim?

Yes, you can still file a coronavirus-related personal injury claim. Nothing in the bill prohibits you from taking legal action. However, it does make filing a claim a bit more challenging.

As detailed above, plaintiffs must submit an affidavit that is signed by a Florida physician. This affidavit must be submitted at the time of filing and cannot be submitted at a later date. Without this affidavit, the COVID-19 claim will be dismissed immediately.

Depending on the specifics of your claim, it may be challenging to find a physician to complete the affidavit. The physician must be reasonably confident that the injury, damages, or death occurred as a result of the defendant’s acts or failure to act.

If your case goes to trial, the physician may have to testify to their findings. Physicians generally will not put their reputation on the line without doing their due diligence. This means that your legal team will need to provide the physician with substantial evidence to support the request before a claim can even be filed.

It is also important to note that the statute of limitations on these claims is one year.

How Does the Claims Process Work?

When they are preparing to file a coronavirus-related claim, your legal team will first need to review the specifics of your case. They will use information such as medical records, medical bills, and other documentation to determine the strength of your claim.

The next step involves identifying the specific circumstances that contributed to the injuries. Remember, the new bill requires that the complaint be “pled with particularity.” This means that your attorney will need to include extra detail when outlining the nature of your complaint.

After that stage is complete, then your legal team will need to seek out the services of a licensed Florida physician. The physician will need to review the medical history for you or your loved one so that they can determine the likely cause of injury or damages. If the physician is satisfied that the defendant’s acts or omissions caused the damages, then they will complete the affidavit.

Once both criteria are met, then your complaint can be filed with the courts. Traditionally, many personal injury claims are settled outside of open court. The defense team may want to avoid taking a case to trial, as the awarded amount could be much higher if a jury rules in your favor.

Seek Help in Your Time of Need

Unfortunately, S.B. 72 may embolden defense attorneys, which means that they will take more of these types of cases to trial. The bill provides broader protections for long-term care facilities, which defense teams will try to use to their advantage.

That does not mean that you should not consider filing a claim. When in doubt, the best approach is to seek out legal counsel. If you or your loved one suffered an injury at a long-term care facility, The Ruth Law Team may be able to help.

Our expert attorneys will review the specifics of your case. We provide free consultations and work on a contingency-fee basis. This means that you will not have to pay legal fees upfront. You will not owe us anything unless we recover compensation for you. Contact us today to schedule your consultation.