What Would Legal Immunity Mean for Medical Workers Fighting the Coronavirus?

Blog, Laws, Medical Malpractice Mistakes, Medical Records, Nurses

In light of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Executive Order 202.10 into law on March 23, 2020 as a continuance of the state’s response to the emergency declared in Executive Order 202. The stated purpose of this Order was to help healthcare professionals treat COVID-19 patients more efficiently and ensure that hospitals have enough beds to house patients suffering from this disease.

The Order temporarily suspended various requirements for recordkeeping, oversight, and working hour limitations previously established under New York state law. It also allows healthcare providers to practice in New York without penalty even if they are not registered in the state, permits medical facilities to cancel elective procedures to maximize available beds for patients with the novel Coronavirus, and restricts pharmacists from dispensing chloroquine or hydrochloroquine outside of state-approved clinical trials as well as prescriptions with FDA approval.

How Would Legal Immunity Impact a Civil Claim?

The most significant impact of this Order is the immunity from civil and criminal liability it grants to physicians, nurse practitioners, assistants to physicians and certain specialists, licensed registered professional nurses, and practical nurses. By temporarily suspending §§6527(2), 6545 & 6909(1) of the New York Consolidated Laws, Education Law, this Order guarantees immunity for any injuries or death stemming from the act or omission of a healthcare professional providing services in response to the COVID-19 outbreak – unless one of those parties exhibits gross negligence.

This Order is unclear about exactly who qualifies for this “immunity.” For example, while Order 202.10 doesn’t explicitly name interns or resident physicians as parties who are immune to litigation, the Emergency or Disaster Treatment Protection Act grants immunity to any healthcare facility or professional providing services to combat the Coronavirus.

Likewise, the ambiguity of this Order raises questions about what specific types of acts and omissions are protected. These changes to state law were meant to grant immunity in cases where serious harm results from understaffing or lack of available resources due to the pandemic, so healthcare professionals presumably could not be sued for forms of negligence like delayed diagnosis, premature patient discharge, and withheld treatment for any conditions other than COVID-19.

However, there are still significant questions about whether this legal immunity covers negligent conduct that is directly related to COVID-19. For instance, a hospital staff member who is unknowingly carrying the novel Coronavirus and inadvertently infects a previously healthy patient, or a hospital that fails to adjust staffing procedures and ensure consistent monitoring of patients in response to the pandemic may be immune from civil litigation. A qualified medical malpractice attorney from our firm could explain your legal options and help determine whether you have grounds to file suit under the current circumstances.