Opinion: Protect health care providers from lawsuits stemming from COVID-19 orders

Graham Filler

For more than four months, health care providers across our state have been in a battle unlike anything this generation has seen. They’re fighting with limited resources to treat a surge of patients who have a virus with no known cure. The possibility of a lawsuit is the last thing that should be on their minds.

That’s why Senate Bill 899 is so important. The plan, approved this week by the Legislature, would provide health care workers and facilities with limited immunity from civil liability during the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

It would also protect doctors and other health professionals who were forced to delay in-person appointments for routine care and preventative procedures due to the governor’s executive orders banning all non-essential care.

For example, if a patient claims additional injury because his or her doctor postponed the knee surgery that had originally been scheduled for March, the doctor should not be sued for circumstances that were beyond their control.

The possibility of a lawsuit is the last thing that should be on health care providers' minds, Filler writes.

Any health professional would tell you that deciding to delay a patient’s medically necessary surgery or procedure is not a decision any provider takes lightly. Unfortunately, that is the situation providers were faced with, and some patients will undoubtedly experience unforeseen negative outcomes. 

Every day our health care workers are putting the health of themselves and their families at risk to answer the call to serve during this unprecedented crisis. They’re working tirelessly while making incredibly difficult decisions and using innovative techniques to care for patients under strained circumstances — especially at the beginning of this crisis, where at times the guidance and directives were changing almost by the hour.

Without medical liability protection, doctors, nurses and other health care professionals face the possibility of years of costly and emotionally draining lawsuits resulting from these extraordinary circumstances. It would bankrupt hospitals, even though there is no set standard of care for treating COVID-19. It simply wouldn’t be right.

I want to be clear. In no way does this provide blanket legal immunity. Under this plan, no one is free from liability for a criminal act, gross negligence or an intentional act of misconduct. 

As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, I worked with experts on all sides of this issue to fine-tune this legislation and arrive at a balanced product that protects both the public receiving care and the health care providers.

Frontline workers and hospitals have received much praise for their actions during these unprecedented times. Let’s further support these heroes by putting these critical protections into law.

State Rep. Graham Filler, R-DeWitt, represents residents of Clinton and Gratiot counties. A former assistant attorney general, he now chairs the House Judiciary Committee.