Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has vetoed a hotly debated new piece of legislation that would protect nursing homes from coronavirus-related lawsuits, according to recent news reports.
The bill in question passed both houses of Pennsylvania’s state legislature, though Law360 notes it passed in the General Assembly “by narrow margins.”
Governor Wolf said in a statement about the veto that the bill extended too much protection to nursing homes, schools, hospitals, and various other businesses. “This legislation provides broad, overreaching immunity from civil liability during the current pandemic,” he said. “Shielding entities from liability in such a broad fashion as provided under this bill invites the potential for carelessness and a disregard for public safety.”
Wolf went on to say that the bill, House Bill 1737, went too far in providing liability protections to companies like “including manufacturers, distributors, labelers, and users of personal protective equipment, business services, and covered providers.” While he stressed his support for liability shields for certain healthcare services,” he said, “Providing immunity for a business that does not rigorously comply with public health orders does not ensure the safety of the public, its employees, and is not in the public interest. At a time when the COVID-19 virus is spreading rapidly, we need to be taking measures to ensure compliance with public health order and improve safety practices. We should not be providing protection for noncompliance or carelessness.”
As a report in the Philly Voice notes, a number of Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania were critical of the veto. In a tweet, Senator Scott Martin said, “Make no mistake, the losers of this outcome are our hospitals, nursing homes, schools, universities, farms, non-profits, etc. The only winners are the trial lawyers.” Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill, meanwhile, said in a statement: “Today, the governor showed he’s more concerned about padding the pockets of rich trial attorneys than standing up for and protecting our public schools, colleges, small businesses, health care providers and non-profits that worked so hard to stick to the very guidance he and his administration have asked every Pennsylvanian to blindly follow.”
State Senator Lisa Baker, who helped architect the amendments protecting nursing homes and other businesses from coronavirus-related liability, said the legislation was necessary to keep businesses alive, according to Law360. “When I talk to struggling business owners and nonprofit organizations, they express fear that one lawsuit could be their death sentence… Those fighting to stay open do not need to incur litigation costs and potentially get hit with judgments on top of all the other pressures and stresses afflicting them,” she said.
As Law360 notes, so far there have not been many Covid-19 related lwsuits filed against Pennsylvania businesses. there are two lawsuits against a nursing home outside Pittsburgh where 10 residents and another employee died of Covid-19, and one alleging safety issues in a Philadelphia-area meatpacking plant where a union steward caught and later died of Covid-19.
In a statement to Law360, the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform criticized Governor Wolf’s veto, noting that it only extends protection to businesses who follow state health orders. In another statement, representatives for the Pennsylvania Association for Justice and the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association lauded the veto, saying, the bill was “nothing more than a grotesque effort by massive corporations, manufacturers, hospitals, and nursing homes to shield themselves from liability when their negligent actions cause injury or death.”
The attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, PLLC work diligently to protect the rights of nursing home residents. Please contact us to discuss in the event you have a potential case involving neglect or abuse.