This week, the New York legislature approved a measure that would narrows the legal immunity law that gave hospitals and nursing homes broad protections against potential coronavirus litigation. The immunity law, which was passed in Spring 2020, gave hospitals and nursing homes cover from possible lawsuits related to the coronavirus crisis. The new bill keeps the immunity law intact overall, but removes protections against circumstances in which a person did not have the coronavirus.
In the backdrop of the liability debate, there have been at least 6,300 confirmed or presumed coronavirus deaths at nursing homes across New York state, data shows. Governor Andrew Cuomo has faced deep scrutiny over the state’s response to the virus in those facilities.
Immunity law supporters argue that nursing homes and hospitals needed liability protections as workers faced an unprecedented crisis. Some health care interest groups say rolling back legal protections would undercut facilities’ ability to recruit health care workers, especially if another coronavirus surge emerges. Various health care groups also oppose the new tweaks to the law. Bea Grause, president of the Healthcare Association of New York State, said the state should be encouraging volunteers to step up if there’s another coronavirus surge in New York, something the bill does not accomplish.
Opponents to the immunity law say seeking justice through the courts is a fundamental principle and they argue the law lets nursing homes and hospitals off the hook for any poor care. The passage of the new proposal falls short for those immunity opponents, who were pushing for a full repeal of the law.
Sponsoring the bill in the state’s lower chamber is Assemblyman Ron Kim, D-Queens, who also backed a measure to repeal the entire immunity clause. Kim said the new legislation is a good step in restoring the rights of patients and nursing home residents. “Moving forward, nursing homes and other health care facilities will be held accountable for failing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and that is a big win for our families, residents and workers,” he said. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Westchester, said New York has moved past the initial crisis stage of the coronavirus pandemic and it makes sense to now limit the immunity’s scope.
The immunity law does not extend to willful criminal misconduct, gross negligence or reckless misconduct; but the law specifies that those definitions do not apply to “decisions resulting from a resource or staffing shortage.” The legislation specifies that the immunity applies to the “assessment or care” of a person with a suspected or confirmed case of the coronavirus. It also removes “prevention” of the coronavirus from the definition of health care services.