A look at state limits on suing care homes in virus crisis

As the coronavirus took root and began to spread in nursing homes around the country, at least 15 states took action to limit lawsuits over deaths, injuries and decisions at the facilities. A brief look at those measures:

15 STATES: Through laws or governor’s orders, these states either explicitly or apparently afford some legal cover to nursing homes and other health care institutions and professionals: Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.

BUILT-IN PROTECTIONS: At least three other states — Indiana, Louisiana and Virginia — already had laws on the books that shield health care providers from being sued over their actions during emergencies, to some extent.

NEW YORK STANDS ALONE: The state with the most nursing home deaths is apparently the only one specifically shielding nursing homes from both civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions over care affected by the crisis.

GROSS NEGLIGENCE EXCEPTION: Most states make exceptions for gross negligence, willful misconduct, acting in bad faith and sometimes additional conditions.

SCARCE SUPPLIES: Measures in Connecticut, New York and Mississippi extend some protections to decisions made because of a lack or resources. Vermont’s executive order allows for “modifying numbers of beds, preserving personal protective equipment and triaging access to services or equipment as necessary to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

OTHER RESTRICTIONS: Arizona’s executive order specifies that the protections don’t apply to rendering care while drunk or high. Rhode Island’s excludes negligence toward patients whose care wasn’t affected by the coronavirus crisis. Massachusetts’ law makes a point of leaving room to litigate over discriminatory conduct and for the state attorney general to pursue consumer protection actions.

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