As physicians and other health care workers risk their health, stretch themselves thin, and deal with uncertain availability of resources to fight COVID-19, the Texas Medical Association is asking Gov. Greg Abbott to restrict litigation stemming from the pandemic.
In a letter to the governor, TMA and several other organizations requested temporary liability protections for physicians and other health care workers in the trenches of the pandemic while the state’s disaster declaration is in effect.
“They are dealing with a pathogen that currently has no cure or vaccine, while putting themselves and their families at risk of contracting the virus by treating those who are in need. In some situations, they are facing shortages of life-saving equipment while trying to render care to a patient population that exceeds their capacity,” the letter noted. “In other situations, to fill personnel shortages, they are being asked to provide health care services that, while within the scope of their licenses or other authorizations, are outside of their facility’s historical credentialing policies or outside their chosen specialty practice. … They are also having to delay care for some patients to divert efforts to treating patients affected by COVID-19.”
The letter makes two asks of Governor Abbott:
- Issue an executive order providing temporary limited liability for all health care workers “risking their lives on the front lines” of the COVID-19 battle, and
- Declare an abatement of any medical liability litigation resulting from COVID-19 until Sept. 1.
“Despite the good intentions and exhaustive efforts of these physicians and health care providers to care for Texas’ patients, many attorneys are already advertising for tort litigation involving health care in response to COVID-19,” the letter said. “Texas’ physicians and health care providers deserve better – thus, we are contacting you to request certain protections to lift some of their burden as they continue to devote their efforts towards treating Texas’ patients affected by COVID-19.”
TMA’s letter notes Texas needs all of its physicians and health care practitioners available to battle the pandemic.
“They are running low on personal protective equipment necessary to protect themselves, but they are still there. They are having to delay care for non-COVID-19 conditions to divert most efforts to combat the virus. They are being reassigned from their specialty areas to other areas of care where they may not have the most updated training. And now they are being threatened with litigation. This threat risks deterring our physicians and health care providers from providing needed, urgent patient care.”
Certain liability protections are already in place for volunteers during a declared disaster, TMA’s letter adds. It says a formal request from the governor “that all physicians, health care providers, and facilities are to assist in response to your disaster declaration would clarify that [those] provisions are in full effect.”
TMA’s request for an abatement on litigation until September anticipates that “there will be many of these suits filed. Physicians and health care providers should not have to deal with tort lawsuits during this time. Any energy wasted on litigation is dangerously wasted at the expense of patient care.”
Signing onto the April 3 letter with TMA were the Texas Hospital Association, Texas Health Care Association, Texas Alliance for Patient Access, Texas Osteopathic Medical Association, Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals, and LeadingAge Texas.
Additional liability resources
The American Medical Association has published information about federal liability protections for health care professionals during the pandemic. In addition, the TMA Office of the General Counsel has published a white paper (members only) that explains a recent expansion of Texas’ Good Samaritan law to volunteer health care professionals and sponsoring health care institutions for care, assistance, or advice provided during a disaster.
Find the latest news, resources, and government guidance on the coronavirus outbreak by visiting TMA’s COVID-19 Resource Center regularly.