Law360's Tort Report: COVID-19 Biz Immunity Laws Passed

By Y. Peter Kang
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Law360 (June 5, 2020, 5:48 PM EDT) -- The passage of state legislation shielding businesses from civil suits related to COVID-19 and a $22.5 million deal to end suits over Catholic Church sexual abuse in Minnesota lead Law360's Tort Report, which compiles recent personal injury and medical malpractice news that may have flown under the radar.

Kansas Legislature Passes COVID-19 Law Shielding Businesses, Nursing Homes

During a special legislative session, the Kansas Senate on June 4 voted to approve a coronavirus relief package that includes provisions shielding businesses and health care providers, including nursing homes, from civil suits related to the pandemic.

The retooled relief package is the product of bipartisan lawmakers' efforts and has the blessing of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who released a statement via Twitter saying she intends to sign HB 2016 into law.

The bill provides civil immunity to doctors, nurses and hospitals providing treatment that has been impacted by COVID-19, absent gross negligence, and specifically states that nursing homes will be allowed to mount an affirmative defense to civil suits so long as they can establish that they've complied with public health directives.

Similarly, businesses shall be immune to civil actions stemming from worker and customer COVID-19 infections providing that they've substantially complied with public health guidelines. The bill notes that the business liability shield is retroactive to March 12 but expires on Jan. 26, 2021.

Oklahoma Businesses Get COVID-19 Liability Protections

Business owners in the Sooner State no longer have to worry about getting sued over customer and employee COVID-19 infections after Oklahoma's governor last month enacted a law barring such claims.

Gov. Kevin Stitt on May 21 signed into law SB 1946, which states that businesses can't be held civilly liable for infection or exposure to the novel coronavirus if the companies can prove they complied with prevailing federal and state guidelines and regulations.

The bill breezed through the Oklahoma Legislature with a 34-11 Senate vote and 76-20 House tally, according to legislative records.

The new law follows similar liability protections afforded to Oklahoma's health care providers in a bill signed into law by Stitt on May 12. That law, SB 300, provides civil immunity for health care providers providing coronavirus treatment which is not the result of gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.

Minn. Catholic Diocese To Pay $22.5M To End Clergy Sex Abuse Claims

The Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota, announced in late May that it has agreed to set up a $22.5 million trust to resolve dozens of claims over clergy sexual abuse in 16 counties and that it will also file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the near future.

The diocese, which had been facing approximately 75 lawsuits related to clergy sexual abuse, according to court papers, said in a May 26 statement that the trust would be funded through insurance coverage settlements and cash and property contributions from the diocese and its parishes.

"I am thankful for the commitment of everyone involved in reaching the understanding we are announcing today," St. Cloud's Bishop Donald Kettler said in a statement. "I am particularly grateful to the survivors of abuse for their courage in coming forward and sharing their experiences, and I again apologize on behalf of the Church for the harm they suffered."

In 2018, an insurance collective for the Catholic Church in the U.S. won an important court ruling on behalf of the St. Cloud diocese in a suit seeking to force Arrowood Indemnity Co. to pick up part of the tab for the sex abuse cases.

A Minnesota federal judge allowed Catholic Mutual Relief Society of America's suit to proceed against Arrowood to determine whether the insurer had a duty to defend the diocese against the suits.

The insurance coverage case was settled in September 2019, according to court records.

Chicago Hospital To Pay $7.5M For Deadly Delayed Cancer Diagnosis

The University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago has agreed to pay $7.5 million to resolve claims that medical staff failed to inform a patient of troubling signs of lung cancer that had been detected by a radiologist and ultimately proved fatal, the patient's attorneys said.

The patient, Mark James, went to the hospital for kidney treatment in 2017. After a routine CT scan was performed, a radiologist discovered a mass on his lung and recommended further tests and a biopsy.

However, the finding was never communicated to James, tests were never performed and 18 months later the cancer was discovered and found to have spread to other parts of the patient's body, according to attorneys from Salvi Schostok & Pritchard, who represented the patient's estate.

He died in July at the age of 63, attorneys said.

"Every patient trusts that their medical providers will inform them of any important findings from tests like this, but sadly nobody took the required steps to follow up with Mark about this serious condition," attorney Brian L. Salvi said in a statement. "If they had, he could have taken the actions necessary to treat it. This was a clear breach in the standard of care."

The case was resolved prior to the filing of a complaint, according to the estate's attorneys.

Feds Strike $6.7M Deal To End Malpractice Suit Against Military Hospital

The federal government has agreed to pay approximately $6.7 million to resolve a suit accusing medical staff at Eisenhower Army Medical Center of causing a newborn baby's permanent and severe brain damage, according to documents filed in Georgia federal court.

The suit filed by Sherecia Willis claims that a staff doctor left her alone and in labor for half an hour despite troubling signs of fetal distress, which caused the fetus to be deprived of oxygen and led to a catastrophic brain injury called hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy.

Terms of the deal, revealed in court papers filed on May 27, call for an upfront cash payment of $6 million, with the remainder earmarked for an annuity that would provide periodic payments for the child.

The case is Willis v. U.S. et al., case number 1:17-cv-00015, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.

--Editing by Emily Kokoll.

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