Are COVID-19-Related Claims Exempt From Medical Malpractice Laws?

With the federal government (as well as some states) specifically creating temporary legal immunities for medical providers who are treating COVID-19 patients, patients may wonder just what recourse they have if they're injured or made ill due to a provider's negligence during this unprecedented time. Learn more about how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting medical malpractice laws.

Temporary Immunity from Malpractice Liability

In general, a medical provider may be liable for malpractice if their actions breached the standard of care — that is, the standard by which a reasonably careful provider would have acted under similar circumstances. But under these special immunities enacted by the federal government (and some state governments), the standard of care for the treatment of COVID-19 has been expanded. Because so much remains unknown about how this disease affects individuals and what treatments may reduce symptoms or prevent permanent damage, lawmakers are reluctant to allow medical providers to be liable for taking actions that, while well-intentioned, may ultimately prove detrimental to patients. 

The legal immunities that have been enacted by the federal and state governments are temporary. Moreover, they don't prevent patients from filing lawsuits — they only shield providers from liability for malpractice under certain circumstances. Depending upon the timing of an individual's treatment and the state and federal laws in effect at this time, two similar outcomes could trigger different levels of liability.

What Plaintiffs Should Know

Patients who have been treated for COVID-19, as well as their loved ones, may still be able to maintain a malpractice claim. Claims related to COVID-19 specifically can fall into one of the following categories:

  • Misallocation of resources (for instance, a claim that a person's relative was not placed on a ventilator as quickly as they could have been, causing permanent lung damage or death, or a claim that the hospital's refusal to equip staff with N95 masks led to a spread of COVID-19)
  • COVID-19 infection during an elective procedure due to the provider's or facility's failure to adequately disinfect treatment facilities
  • Improper or inappropriate treatment (such as using experimental medications that have not been approved for the treatment of COVID-19)

Medical malpractice cases can be among the most complex types of civil cases. And with the sheer amount of information (and corrected information) being passed around in the wake of COVID-19, proceeding on a malpractice claim without an attorney can be especially risky. If you or a loved one has been injured in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic, it's important to seek experienced legal counsel as soon as possible.

Reach out to a medical malpractice lawyer today for more information.

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