It has been more than a century since a truly all-enveloping, global pandemic has cut deep into the day-to-day lives of so many people. Discussions of the coronavirus or COVID-19 invariably include at least brief references, if not substantive comparisons, to the global pandemic of 1918-1919, in which more than 600,000 Americans perished. The world-wide death toll is still uncertain, with estimates of 20,000,000, to 50,000,000. Fortunately, at least for now, the current pandemic is not expected to be so devastating. Still, these two pandemics share many features, including the boundless heroism and courage of healthcare providers, both in the high-profile, as well as the seemingly small roles in combatting the virus and saving lives.
As the United States makes its way into the third month of dealing with COVID-19, there are already signs of concern for our healthcare providers being attacked in the future. As much as it seems wrong to have to consider this specter, several states have not only been anticipating it, they have taken action to shield certain healthcare providers from legal liability. For example, on April 1, 2020, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker entered an order to protect state employed healthcare workers and state-directed healthcare workers from civil liability for claims arising out of care provided to COVID-19 patients. Other states taking similar action include AL, AR, AZ, CT, GA, IL, MA, MI, MS, NC, NJ, NY, RI, VT.
Some might say such action is unnecessary – after all, who would sue these brave healthcare providers who risked and continue to risk their own health? The fact is that there are already COVID-19 solicitations on the websites of numerous plaintiff lawyers. Many of those focus on long term care facilities, but there is every reason to think that plaintiff lawyers’ groups and think tanks around the country are already working on different strategies to bring legal actions for COVID-19 care.
Much continues to be written about how to prevent or lessen the spread of COVID-19. Over the coming few days we will instead be providing a series of blog articles that delve into potential dangers for healthcare providers and offer observations about possible defense strategies.
Watch for our next post in this series, which considers the “standard of care” for healthcare providers during this global pandemic.