Liability Protection Fails to Advance, Still Opportunity During Special Session

5/21/2020
Although the Minnesota Legislature failed to pass legislation offering liability protection for physicians and other health care workers who are providing care during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is still a chance it could pass during a special session in June.  

Because of the pandemic, physicians are being forced to adapt to a rapidly changing practice climate, with shortages of personal protective equipment, limited equipment and supplies, reduced staffing support, and assignments to different services or settings. In addition, patients have been forced to delay care because of the executive order to limit non-essential health care services.

Legislation (SF 4603/HF 4693) was introduced in both bodies to provide limited immunity to provide protection for possible lawsuits arising out of the state’s response to the pandemic.

The bills, carried by Sen. Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake) and Rep. Kelly Morrison, MD (DFL-Deephaven), sought to provide immunity to physicians, hospitals, long-term care facilities, EMTs, and all health care providers, acting in good faith, for harm or damages resulting from the providers’ act or omission arising out of the state’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak. This immunity would not apply for harm caused by intentional or reckless misconduct or by gross negligence. It would also only apply for care provided during the state’s peacetime emergency.

“Physicians should not have to worry about being sued later for treating patients under a new standard of care that may be suboptimum,” said Keith Stelter, MD, MMA president. “Not only will we be forced to make difficult decisions when the surge hits, patients who have been forced to delay care because of the state’s actions should not be allowed to sue their doctor for the delay.”

The Senate bill received a hearing in the Senate Health & Human Services Finance & Policy committee on May 14, where it passed with no recommendation and was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It did not receive a committee hearing in the House.  

While the bill did not pass during the regular session, efforts continue to pass this bill during the upcoming special session on June 12. 

Legislators still need to hear from physicians that this bill is needed. You can help by sending an Action Alert to your legislators urging them to support the bill. 

More than 20 states, either through legislation or their governor’s executive order power, have enacted liability protection.

“For the Legislature to pass this needed protection, they must hear from their constituents on why this is needed,” Stelter said.