The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has proven so far to be among the most difficult periods in the history of the United States, and New York State has certainly not been spared. While the pandemic has rattled the psyches of people around the world, and done catastrophic damage to the world economy the full extent of which will not be fully understood for years, it has also revealed the medical and hospital systems of our nation to have been grossly underprepared and under-resourced for such an event.
By now, every New Yorker has heard the pleas of Mayor Bill DiBlasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Dr. Anthony Fauci and countless other government officials for urgent assistance, most acutely from the nationwide medical community. Every New Yorker has also, no doubt, read or seen accounts of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who are working on the front lines of this crisis, trying to treat the sick and save lives, who describe the conditions in New York’s hospitals as equivalent to what one might imagine would be seen in a war zone. By all accounts, medical staffing is too thin, and critical medical supplies required to save lives (most importantly, ventilators) are in alarmingly short supply.
In an attempt to bolster New York State’s ability to respond to the Coronavirus crisis, on March 23, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order pursuant to New York Executive Law Sections 29-a and 29-b providing immunities from civil lawsuits, regulatory enforcement proceedings and criminal proceedings for licensed healthcare providers who (i) provide medical services in support of New York State’s response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, (ii) act reasonably and in good faith to keep accurate medical records relating to the treatment of Coronavirus (COVID-19) patients, (iii) may come out of retirement without an active medical license/registration to aid in the treatment of Coronavirus (COVID-19) patients, and (iv) may travel to New York from another state to assist New York in its efforts to battle the Coronavirus (COVID-19). The executive order only allows for civil, regulatory or criminal liability for grossly-negligent or intentional conduct in connection with the practice of medicine related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Though it does not address non-Coronavirus-related medical treatment, it is likely that every single defendant in every single medical malpractice lawsuit that relates to treatment rendered during the time period during which the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic is ongoing will raise this as a defense.