Ray Carter | May 4, 2020
Immunity for those treating COVID-19 advances
Legislation to protect health care workers from some lawsuits while treating COVID-19 patients gained strong bipartisan approval in the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Monday.
Senate Bill 300, by Sen. Julie Daniels and Rep. Terry O’Donnell, creates the “COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Limited Liability Act.” Under the bill, a health care facility or health care provider would be made “immune from civil liability for any loss or harm to a person with a suspected or confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 caused by an act or omission by the facility or provider that occurs during the COVID-19 public health emergency.”
“What this bill really does, though, is it recognizes the heroic dedication of thousands of health care providers in the state of Oklahoma,” said O’Donnell, R-Catoosa. “While you and I are worried about social distancing and washing our hands regularly, our doctors and nurses are voluntarily exposing themselves to the COVID-19 virus to treat patients that are near death.”
He noted some nurses have lived separately from their families to reduce the potential spread of the virus to loved ones while they care for patients.
“Right now, we’re asking our Oklahoma health care providers to ration tests, to ration drugs, to ration hospital beds, to ration ventilators—and making those decisions in the heat of battle is one of the most difficult medical challenges that they face, ever,” O’Donnell said. “This measure is designed to empower and protect health care providers in making those hard decisions during a difficult time.”
The law would apply only in instances where a patient is being treated for COVID-19 and the health-care provider’s act or omission “was not the result of gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.”
The legislation would not apply to the treatment of patients for maladies other than COVID-19, and the bill provides liability protection for that group only through October 31, 2020.
While the legislation received strong bipartisan support, Rep. David Perryman, appeared critical of the measure during floor questions.
“Would you agree that this protects not so much health care workers and health care providers as it does those insurance companies that insure those entities?” asked Perryman, D-Chickasha.
O’Donnell noted many negligence insurance policies exclude actions taken during pandemics, so the bill’s benefit would be greatest for health care workers.
Perryman also suggested the legislation would allow medical officials to engage in illegal experimentation on human subjects. As an example, he suggested a facility might “determine that they want to inject some sort of sanitizing agent into the body to kill the virus” or a UV light “may be inserted down a person, into their lungs, that actually ends up burning their lungs.”
“Would this protect that provider that undertook that treatment?” Perryman said.
“Some of the examples you are citing probably would be gross negligence,” O’Donnell said. “I mean, if you’re just willy-nilly inserting floor cleaner into people’s veins, this doesn’t help with that kind of immunity.”
Under the bill, a provider would have no immunity for acts of gross negligence.
“It’s a narrow window of time for a very focused group of patients,” O’Donnell said.
SB 300 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 95-2 vote. Perryman did not cast a vote.
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.