April 28, 2020

Plaintiffs injury attorneys are blasting lobbyists for the health care and insurance industries who they say are taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to push for civil and criminal immunity for hospital chains and nursing home companies, to the detriment of patients injured by medical negligence.

A number of hard-hit states such as New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts have already enacted legislation conferring health care provider immunity, but Florida and California — both among the top 10 states in terms of total deaths — have not.

Health care and insurance lobbyists are clamoring for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom to issue executive orders shielding health care providers from civil and criminal liability in order to help physicians and nurses treat patients without the fear of getting sued.

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However, Leslie M. Kroeger, a Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC partner and president of the Florida Justice Association, said the insurance lobby's immunity efforts are a "dog whistle" issue that is being driven by the goal of saving money for insurance companies.

"I get it, that's their job," she said. "It doesn't mean that it's right for the people."

Kroeger added that getting protections for doctors, nurses and other health care workers on the front lines is an admirable goal but ignores the fact that the Florida insurance lobby has been pushing tort reform for decades.

"Those men and women are heroes, but the people above them who administer and run these hospitals and nursing homes have been at this for a while, and they are asking for immunity for these companies, not individuals," she said.

While the plaintiffs attorneys who spoke to Law360 largely agreed that they would likely not pursue coronavirus-related litigation against front-line medical workers, they said nursing homes may be fair game given institutional failures at many "bad actor" facilities over the years, particularly the understaffing of homes. Kroeger said lobbyists have long tried to get Florida lawmakers to relax nursing home staffing requirements.

"If companies find themselves with short staff and lack of resources, they have put themselves in that position," she said. "They've [understaffed] consistently for the last 20 years, so for them to now cry 'we need help' is just unfathomable to me. It's as though they think people who've been paying attention have a short memory, but we don't."

The complete article can be accessed here.