Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker on April 1 issued an executive order that grants medical professionals and health care facilities civil liability immunity for any injuries or deaths that occur while providing health care services during the coronavirus pandemic. The order in effect intends to shield frontline workers from medical malpractice lawsuits that arise from their treatment of COVID-19 patients.
Under the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act, health care facilities, medical professionals and volunteer workers are exempt from liability unless they engage in willful misconduct or gross negligence. For instance, if a respiratory therapist uses incorrect ventilator settings for a COVID-19 patient who suffers lung damage as a result, the therapist would be shielded from civil liability.
Pritzker’s order directs facilities to postpone or cancel elective procedures. The order also applies to non-coronavirus patients being treated by health care workers who are providing outbreak-related services at the time. For example, if a patient receives inadequate care for a heart attack during the pandemic, the medical professional and hospital would be granted immunity from legal action simply because they were providing care to COVID-19 patients. This holds true as long as there was no willful misconduct or gross negligence involved.
The order’s scope and application across future medical malpractice cases is likely to face challenges in court. The laws surrounding medical malpractice can be complex, and even more so during the coronavirus pandemic. As the statute of limitations in such cases is generally two years, the effects of the governor’s order will be seen even after it expires.