By: Tim Rayne, Esquire
On May 6, 2020, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed an Executive Order granting broad civil immunity from malpractice lawsuits arising out of care provided to Covid-19 patients.
The immunity covers individual healthcare workers including doctors, nurses, hospital technicians, nursing home employees and other healthcare workers who have been involved in providing treatment to COVID-19 victims. The Order extends the civil immunity from liability afforded to state employees to individual healthcare workers, making them immune from claims of injury or death caused by their carelessness or negligence in the treatment of COVID-19. This means that individual healthcare workers cannot be sued for malpractice arising out of negligent care of COVID-19 patients.
The immunity for healthcare providers covers only negligent/careless conduct and the providers are not immune from claims for willful misconduct (like assault or sexual assault) or gross negligence, which is negligence far beyond simple carelessness.
In addition, the Executive Order does not grant immunity to nursing homes or hospitals but, instead, only to individual healthcare workers. This means that facilities can still be held accountable and victims can still be compensated for injuries caused by negligent conduct.
Healthcare industry advocates argue that the Executive Order should have gone farther by granting comprehensive immunity to both individual healthcare workers and hospitals and nursing homes during this COVID-19 crisis.
However, victims rights advocates counter that comprehensive immunity is unfair because it leaves the victim of negligent care to bear the burden of their injuries rather than holding the negligent people and entities accountable. Also it would be particularly unfair given that hospitals and nursing homes have protected themselves by purchasing insurance which means that the immunity would result in a windfall for the insurance companies by barring claims.
In the end, this might be a fair compromise because it protects potentially overworked doctors and nurses from individual liability during this national crisis but still hold holds facilities accountable for their negligence and does not leave the families of victims stuck with the consequences of negligent care.