In response to COVID-19, medical professionals have put their lives at risk in order to protect members of their community. In some cases, nurses and doctors have even left their homes to travel to areas that require extra help in combating this vicious virus.
Medical associations nationwide are now asking government officials for protection in the area of medical malpractice law while they are on the frontlines saving the lives of others. Whether or not there is a need for such legislation and whether it may hinder the rights of American citizens is now in question.
Need For Immunity
As the coronavirus began to spread rapidly throughout the world, health care workers had to jump into action to begin saving the lives of those infected. Within a moment’s notice, many nurses and doctors have ventured out of their area of expertise. Medical malpractice law is put in place to hold professionals accountable for their actions when performing procedures they are well educated in. Now, these individuals are working with a virus that even the best doctors have limited information on, preventing them from being able to perfect their methodology.
Right now, a hospital is a dangerous place for those with a compromised immune system. Because of this, doctors have begun to make atypical decisions in order to protect patients that frequently visit for treatment. In some instances, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy have been advised to delay treatments. Doctors are working off of the assumption that less exposure to the hospital will decrease the patient’s risk of getting infected. Although these decisions are being made with the patient’s best interest in mind, there are fears that veering off of a typical treatment plan can lead to pharmaceutical malpractice lawsuits in the future.
Health care workers also feel it is necessary to take extraordinary measures in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. “I think it’s important that everybody understands that this is not a time for people to be timid,” stated Doctor Curtis Miyamoto, Chair of Radiation Oncology at Temple Health in Philadelphia. These doctors desire peace of mind when clocking into work and malpractice immunity is an avenue in which they can achieve this.
Adversity to Immunity
Some government officials have expressed how such immunity raises suspicion. There is a concern that healthcare workers are exploiting the pandemic and using it for leverage in achieving broader tort reform. Tort law is the legal liability of an individual who has brought loss or harm upon another individual.
The concern also applies to the unknown duration of COVID-19. Officials are hesitant to grant immunity when it comes to malpractice lawsuits out of fear that the coronavirus will persist for an extended period of time. They want to ensure that patients are provided the protection they deem necessary and lengthy immunity could compromise the efficacy of procedures in place to do so.
Although this is still an ongoing concern for many health care workers, some legislation has been put in place in an attempt to convince individuals to offer their services.
Under the Uniform Emergency Volunteer Health Practitioners Act (UEVHPA), “volunteer health practitioners are not liable for damages except in the case of willful, wanton, grossly negligent, reckless, or criminal conduct, or an intentional tort.”
In an emergency situation where there are insufficient resources and prioritization must be made it is within reason that altered standards of care occur. In this type of situation, medical professionals must act in a manner that differs from typical procedures in non-emergency instances. Furthermore, conventional legal standards when holding health care professionals accountable would be inappropriate since they are provided substandard resources. These resources are described as “inadequate equipment or supplies, a lack of electricity, or other extenuating circumstances.” To differing degrees, protection in times of altered standards of care is already in place across the 50 States of America as well as the District of Columbia.
If you would like to read further on these pieces of legislation, click here.
Under the CARES Act stimulus package which was passed by Congress in March of 2020, immunity has been issued for health care volunteers. A volunteer has been defined as an individual who provides their skills without any type of compensation. This means that federally, those who receive compensation for their participation in treating COVID-19 are still susceptible to being penalized through medical malpractice law.
Legal Action in Florida
On May 12th, 2020, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss malpractice immunity. This legislation would affect the people of Boca Raton as well as the rest of Florida. A major goal of the hearing was to lessen the extent to which health care workers can be sued while Florida is in a state of emergency. In the terms suggested, claims of gross negligence or reckless misconduct are still deemed as acceptable grounds for a lawsuit.
Many groups have joined together in support of such legislation. These groups include The Florida Hospital Association, the Florida Nurses Association, the Florida Society of Anesthesiologists, the Florida Nurse Practitioners Network, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida. They want to know that the state has their back and trusts them to make the right decision by limiting their liability when combatting COVID-19 in Boca Raton.
The Florida Health Care Association wrote a letter to the governor requesting, "immunity from any liability, civil or criminal, for any harm or damages alleged to have been sustained as a result of an act or omission in the course of arranging for or providing health care services."
Rich Templin, with AFL-CIO-Florida, stated “I don’t think anybody would argue that it may be worthwhile to examine our current liability laws in this new reality,” Templin said. “But that’s not usually what happens in Tallahassee.” He went on to discuss that the power to make decisions like this is often put in the hands of major corporations.
As of now, there has been no new legislation put in place regarding the immunity of health care workers in Florida.
It is essential that even during a pandemic, medical professionals are held accountable for pharmaceutical malpractice. If legislation is passed protecting health care workers from medical malpractice lawsuits, it could endanger the rights of those who should be granted compensation for the wrongdoings of these professionals.
If you are in the Boca Raton or Orlando area and feel that you are a victim of malpractice, please reach out so you can receive the indemnification that you deserve.
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