Providence Personal Injury Lawyer Louis W. Grande discusses civil liability, medical malpractice, delayed diagnosis, and other Coronavirus lawsuits and legal issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The world is a different place than it was a few months ago.
The Coronavirus pandemic has ground daily life to a halt, caused a global recession and has left millions of Americans without work. Small businesses across the nation are scrambling to stay alive and more than 14,000 people in the United States have died since the start of this pandemic.
What is happening is right now is completely unprecedented, sparking fears of an economic collapse. The financial fallout may rival the 2008 real estate bubble and The Great Depression combined.
In an effort to get in front of the proverbial eight ball, Congress has scrambled for solutions and approved a $2 trillion dollar stimulus package, which includes direct payments to individuals and access to immediate funds through the Payroll Protection Program for small businesses.
Will it be enough?
Shelter-in-place orders and social distancing
The resounding response of a global pandemic has been anything but coordinated.
Now, slowly but surely, states across the country have been enacting their own shelter-in-place orders and social distancing guidelines in an effort to slow the spread.
These new rules allow only businesses with “essential workers” to remain open.
What this means is that many services are not available right now, including access to courts.
Access to courts and legal help
Courtrooms across the United States have screeched to a halt as shelter-in-place orders and social distancing have become the new norm.
Access to court relief for routine civil matters is temporarily suspended. Most courts are only hearing emergency matters at this time.
Even in criminal courts, where an individual has due process rights, those rights are being impacted. People are not getting arrested. Charges are not being filed. Emergency orders are being put into place to extend deadlines, while courts scramble to set up for video appearances.
Right now, lawsuits are being filed left and right.
- Fox News is being sued for calling the novel coronavirus a hoax.
- Walmart is being sued for wrongful death after an employee died from COVID-19.
- Costa Cruises, a Carnival subsidiary, is being sued for neglecting to take necessary precautions after passengers were found to have Coronavirus symptoms.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. The sheer number of lawsuits that will flow from this time in our history will likely be just as unprecedented as the virus itself.
While it makes sense for a business to pay for price gouging or putting their employees at risk, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and delayed diagnosis claims are likely going to be the next wave that will be filed in this country.
At what point should the line be drawn, when medical personnel on the front lines are putting themselves at risk, working with little or no sleep and limited resources, not the least of which is personal protective gear.
Medical workers and those on the front lines
The governor of Illinois recently used the “Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act” to shield health care workers from lawsuits during the coronavirus pandemic.
This is not a new law. In fact, it was created in 1988.
What’s unique about this executive order is its sweeping authority to remove all civil liability from medical facilities, community-integrated living facilities, community mental health centers and others that are providing COVID-19 health care services.
These facilities — or any of the health care workers providing care — cannot be sued “for any injury or death alleged to have been caused by any act or omission by the Health Care Facility, which injury or death occurred at a time when a Health Care Facility was engaged in the course of rendering assistance to the State by providing health care services in response to the COVID-19 outbreak,” until after the governor’s disaster declaration finally expires.
No one wants to risk being sued while they are risking their lives.
Even as a personal injury lawyer, I believe now is not the time to distract medical workers with fear of lawsuits. They are literally risking their own lives on a daily basis to protect us from an invisible enemy, and most do not even have the personal protective equipment needed to save themselves from potentially getting sick, or dying themselves.
There is one sticky point in how Illinois is using this law though. It actually shields medical workers and facilities from all cases of negligence.
So, for example, if you had to go to the hospital for a car accident injury and ended up more injured — or dead — because of negligence on behalf of your care provider, you or your loved ones would “technically” have ZERO grounds for a claim if you lived in Illinois. It is an interesting precedent, but difficult to predict how a higher court would rule or how other states may apply old laws or enact new ones in light of what is happening now.
Medical lawsuits and the Coronavirus pandemic
One thing is for certain: we’ve reached an inflection point in how we handle crises. A concentrated effort is the only thing that is effective, but it’s not happening, and not happening fast enough.
If there is one thing to focus on now, it is doing what is in your power to stay safe and keep others safe by following social distancing, and keeping yourself and your family self-quarantined as much as possible.
There is no question that this is a whole new world and the reality is we likely have not reached the apex. Things may get worse.
In the meantime, stay safe.