Last month New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill placing restrictions on the medical malpractice immunity he granted New York hospitals and nursing home facilities at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report by Newsday.
The bill, signed in August, gave hospitals and nursing homes immunity in malpractice claims involving Covid-19, whereas a March executive order and April law granted them immunity from “all but the most egregious cases over gross negligence or criminal acts.”
According to Newsday, the new immunity legislation followed lobbying by the Trial Lawyers Association, a group representing plaintiffs’ attorneys who represent alleged victims of medical malpractice. The TLA argued that the broader immunity legislation gave hospitals too much protection while failing to help less powerful victims of malpractice. Per a July Newsday report, “The defense lawyers’ group said Cuomo had silenced the voice of ‘the most vulnerable New Yorkers — Latinx workers, Black moms-to-be and the elderly — who are victims of medical mistakes, negligence and substandard care.’” In response, the Greater New York Hospital Association, which represents hospitals, said “the bill would harm health care facilities in the event of a resurgence of COVID-19, which could impact treatment of non-COVID cases.”
As state legislators moved the new bill forward, one of its co-sponsors, Assemblyman Ron Kim, said in a statement: “The issue addressed in this legislation has had a profound impact on both my community and my family. This legislation will ensure that New Yorkers have a right to recourse should they encounter neglect or misconduct by unscrupulous health care providers or facilities. This is a good step toward restoring the rights of patients and nursing home residents that were taken away from them during this pandemic. Moving forward, nursing homes and other healthcare 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.”
The bill’s Senate co-sponsor, Luis Sepúlveda, said in a statement: “Families grieving loved ones lost in nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic deserve answers. This bill allows for better transparency and accountability from our healthcare system. New Yorkers deserve to know their loved ones are receiving the best care, and this legislation works to remove those immunity protections.”
And Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said: “There is no doubt that our health care system has faced unprecedented challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. We could never possibly repay our heroic health care workers for all of their selfless service during this health crisis. This legislation ensures that New Yorkers have access to legal recourse against bad actors, while acknowledging the unimaginable sacrifices of our health care workers.”
Newsday concludes that some state legislators believe the bill should go further, specifically by allowing malpractice claims for cases that occurred during the period when hospitals and nursing homes enjoyed broader immunity.