Lawyer and client in courtroom.

Liability for COVID-19 Vaccine Harms: We Need to Do Better

By Dorit Reiss

COVID-19 vaccines are extremely safe, and serious harms are rare. But rare does not mean the risk is zero; thus, we need a way to determine which people have plausible claims of harm from the vaccines, and we must then compensate them quickly and generously. However, the regular torts system is not a good option for adjudicating these claims. Fortunately, we already have a better system — no-fault compensation — available to address the problem.

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Airplane taking off from the airport.

In-Flight COVID Transmission: Surveying the Liability Landscape

By Christopher Robertson

Do airlines have legal obligations to manage the risk of in-flight infections?

In the pre-COVID era, I answered this question affirmatively. In a 2016 paper, I reviewed the scientific literature showing that airline travel is a key vector for spreading infectious disease, both because airports and airplanes tend to mix people in such close quarters that they are likely to infect each other, and because it efficiently distributes infected people around the world to then infect more people.

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Bill of Health - Gavel on mask during pandemic, class action lawsuits during pandemic

Relying on the Unreliable? COVID-19 Claims Can’t Proceed Without a Proper Standard of Care

By Michelle Richards

In the United States, the imposition of tort liability for the transmission of an infectious disease goes back more than a century. It is no surprise, therefore, that similar claims have been filed for damages arising from the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

However, in order for these claims to be adjudicated fairly, they must be judged against a standard of care. A standard of care provides a benchmark for the level of caution a reasonable party would take in particular circumstances. If the standard of care is not met, liability may be imposed.

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Blue biohazard sign in front of columns of binary code.

The International Weaponization of Health Data

By Matthew Chun

International collaboration through the sharing of health data is crucial for advancing human health. But it also comes with risks — risks that countries around the world seem increasingly unwilling to take.

On the one hand, the international sharing of health-related data sets has paved the way for important advances such as mapping the human genome, tracking global health outcomes, and fighting the rise of multidrug-resistant superbugs. On the other hand, it can pose serious risks for a nation’s citizens, including re-identification, exploitation of genetic vulnerabilities by foreign parties, and unauthorized data usage. As countries aim to strike a difficult balance between furthering research and protecting national interests, recent trends indicate a shift toward tighter controls that could chill international collaborations.

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Empty classroom.

Tort Liability for Faculty Who Fail to Tell the Class About COVID Cases in Their Midst

By Heidi Li Feldman

The more individuals must rely on their own judgment and effort to protect themselves from disease, the more they need information regarding the possibility of exposure to the cause of the disease.

This simple proposition, combined with changes in how governments and institutions are approaching COVID, means that university faculty should rethink their role in keeping their students informed about COVID cases among class members. To satisfy their legal obligations to protect students from harm, faculty must consider whether safeguarding their students from incurring COVID in their classrooms necessitates sharing such information. Fulfilling their legal duties to students may even require faculty to disregard administrative prohibitions against disseminating news of COVID cases in the class.

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New Delhi, India-May 4 2018: Supreme court of India building in New Delhi, India.

The Supreme Court of India’s Landmark Abortion Ruling, Explained

By Aparajita Lath

The Supreme Court of India recently ruled that all women, whether married or not, have equal rights to access abortion up to 24 weeks of gestation, in compliance with the provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTP Act).

Prior to this ruling, the MTP Act was understood to permit abortions up to 20 weeks (on the advice of one medical practitioner), and up to 24 weeks in certain specific cases, e.g., minors, pregnancies resulting from rape, women experiencing changes in marital status, women with certain mental / physical disabilities, fetal malformation, or pregnancies in emergency situations. The Supreme Court has now expanded the law to ensure access to abortion for all women, regardless of marital status, up to 24 weeks gestation.

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A man holds a shield in his hand.

The Pathology (and Politics) of Liability Shields

By Nicolas Terry

Over one million Americans have died from COVID-19, while 20 percent of those who survive may develop post-COVID conditions. With weak safety net policies and high health care costs it would hardly be surprising if our fellow citizens tried to shift some of their COVID costs to arguably responsible defendants.

For example, lawsuits could have emerged against either businesses (or their employees) alleging negligent failure to mitigate (e.g., vaccinate, mask, or even implement hygiene theater policies), or against health care providers for failures in the professional standard of care (e.g., failure to amass/provide adequate numbers of personal protective equipment or ventilators).

However, the predicted litigation explosion has not materialized. In its stead (and without any apparent causal valence) we have experienced a proliferation of liability shield (aka limited immunity) laws.

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Picture of doctor neck down using an ipad with digital health graphics superimposed

Everything You Wanted to Know About Expanded Access but Were Afraid to Ask, Part 2

By Alison Bateman-House, Hayley M. Belli, and Sage Gustafson

This series is adapted from a webinar hosted by PRIM&R on August 5, 2021: IRB Review of Expanded Access Protocols that Collect Real World Data: Considerations and Guidance. Read Part 1 here.

Part 2: Possible Value of “Real World Data” Collected from Expanded Access

Real world data (RWD) are data relating to patient health status and/or the delivery of health care such as medical bills/claims, electronic health records, and product/disease registries. RWD are derived from sources outside of randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Real world evidence (RWE) may be derived from the analysis of quality RWD.

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