NC Gives COVID-19 Civil Immunity To Health Care Providers

By Y. Peter Kang
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Law360 (May 4, 2020, 8:38 PM EDT) -- North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday signed into law a $1.6 billion COVID-19 relief package that included provisions shielding health care providers from civil liability during the health care crisis.

Under the new law, which is retroactive to March 10, medical workers and health care facilities including nursing homes can't be held liable for patient injuries or deaths that were sustained during the state's coronavirus public health emergency. The virus had killed 430 people in the Tar Heel State as of Monday, according to state figures.

The two-bill relief package was unanimously passed by the General Assembly during a special legislative session held Saturday and was approved by Cooper on Monday morning.

"I am signing into law two critical relief bills that will provide assistance to families, schools, hospitals and small businesses as our state battles COVID-19," Cooper said in a statement Monday. "There is more work ahead of us, and I hope the spirit of consensus behind these bills will continue."

The law, which also provides liability protections for health care facility administrators, covers any good faith medical treatment that is directly or indirectly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic for the duration of the state's health care emergency in 2020.

It does not allow for immunity in cases of gross negligence, reckless misconduct or intentional infliction of harm. However, cases involving resource shortages or staffing shortages at health care facilities can't be considered gross negligence, according to the bill.

In addition, the law provides a standing order that any vaccine approved in the future by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can be administered by pharmacists, who are provided with civil and criminal immunity while doing so.

The law also has a severability clause that allows portions to remain legally valid if other portions are deemed to be unconstitutional or otherwise unlawful by a court of law.

North Carolina follows a number of other states that have enacted legislation shielding health care providers from civil liability, including hard-hit New York and New Jersey.

Health care and insurance lobbyists are pushing for similar shields through executive orders in California and Florida. But plaintiffs' attorneys argue that health care companies and the insurance industry are just using the pandemic as an opportunity to achieve long-sought tort reform.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

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