U.S. doctors seek protection from malpractice suits during outbreak

As overwhelmed U.S. healthcare workers confront the coronavirus head on - trying to save as many lives as possible with limited resources - they’re confronting another threat…

The potential for malpractice lawsuits.

Groups representing healthcare providers have been pressing governors for legal protection for decisions made in crisis-stricken emergency rooms.

Boston emergency physician Jeremy Faust:

(SOUNDBITE) (English) EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN, JEREMY FAUST, SAYING: "We need protection that is temporary. This is not an end-around for litigation reform. This is a response to a moment in time, and we've even seen lawyers posting things online saying 'have your doctors mismanaged your COVID?' like 'call us', like the kind of thing you see on television at two in the morning. So we're seeing that. This is not fantasy or fiction.”

A recent image posted on Twitter of a malpractice law firm's website read: "What you should know about medical negligence during the COVID-19 crisis."

It’s those types of blogs and ads that have physicians worried - especially as they take on roles outside of their specialties during the pandemic.

Governors in New York, New Jersey and Michigan have responded with temporary orders that raised the standard - during the coronavirus outbreak - for injuries or deaths.

Physicians, who have long blamed malpractice lawsuits for driving up healthcare costs, hope other states will follow.

But some lawyers who deal with medical malpractice cases, like New York's Joe Belluck, are urging caution:


"You know, when they are faced with this type of crisis, we have to be careful that what is enacted or done by executive order is narrowly tailored to the emergency circumstances that we're in. And I think if that's done the right way, it will be something that, you know, everybody involved in the legal system can live with.”

Other lawyers who represent patients said an emergency room doctor operating in peak chaos of the outbreak would not be judged against the standard of care provided in a physician's private office.

But with the U.S death toll rising fast - anxiety toward lawsuits still remains for healthcare workers on the front line.