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Medical Malpractice

Pennsylvania Doctors Want Malpractice Exemptions During Pandemic

— April 16, 2020

Physicians say they don’t want to have to worry about second-guessing themselves in the midst of a novel pandemic.

Pennsylvania doctors treating patients amidst the novel coronavirus outbreak want immunity from malpractice claims for the duration of the pandemic.

According to Lancaster Online, the effort’s being led by the head of the state trade association representing physicians in the state.

“We respectfully urge you to recognize the heroic dedication of all health care workers by signing an executive order granting medical liability immunity during the period of the COIVD-19 emergency declaration here in the Commonwealth,” Pennsylvania Medical Society president Lawrence R. John wrote in a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday.

While John’s request may sound drastic, it isn’t unprecedented: nearly a dozen other states have already granted similar exemptions. As Lancaster Online reports, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for instance, issued an executive order explicitly curbing the scope of malpractice claims during the pandemic.

But Pennsylvania legislators aren’t universally keen on Gov. Wolf following Cuomo’s example.

An IV drip. Image via Piqsels. Public domain.

Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, a Lancaster County Republican, said malpractice regulation should be addressed by the state’s Congress.

“I hope the governor will recognize the unique stresses medical professionals, along with the producers and suppliers of life-saving equipment, are under at this difficult time and join us in finding a solution that empowers and protects doctors on the front lines of this crisis,” Cutler told Lancaster Online.

However, health care providers in Pennsylvania are increasingly worried about liability claims. John told Pittsburgh’s NPR station that he’s working to ensure doctors, nurses, and medical assistants “can focus on the care of the patient and try very hard to save their lives and not worry about a bad outcome that they might not have any opportunity to prevent.”

John said that immunity—even if only temporary—ensures that practitioners won’t second-guess themselves. His concern echoes sentiments shared by doctors in other states that have yet to enact malpractice exemptions.

Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, told Reuters at the beginning of April that novel coronavirus presents novel challenges. And, accordingly, it’s important that physician’s choices not be constantly second-guessed or taken to court.

“There are too many variables here. We are going to be second-guessed,” Faust said. “We need better protection, if only to guard against unreasonable claims.”

John stressed that any exemption Pennsylvania may enact shouldn’t shield doctors or other health professionals from egregious misconduct.

“I think if there is an egregious error made, patients would certainly have an opportunity to bring a case,” John told NPR. “How one might define egregious versus doing the best they can might be the grey area.”


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