Empty gym.

Are COVID Waivers Enforceable? Look to Gym Waivers for Insights

By Sunnie Ning

Salons, movie theaters, gyms, churches — if you have been somewhere recently that is indoors or requires close personal contact, chances are, you have encountered a COVID liability waiver. But how enforceable are they?

Liability waivers, which stand at the intersection of torts and contract law, are a matter of state law. They have been on the rise as a contractual solution to tort problems since the 1980s, and are now common for recreational and sporting activities with higher-than-normal risks. However, no court has adjudicated on the enforceability of a COVID liability waiver yet, and the unique nature of the pandemic makes it difficult to predict how courts will rule.

Standard gym and health club waivers, operating outside the context of a pandemic, may provide insights into the enforceability of COVID waivers.

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Empty classroom.

Who’s to Blame for COVID-19 Outbreaks at Colleges and Universities?

By Sravya Chary

For many U.S. colleges and universities that opted for in-person instruction this fall, the return to campus during the COVID-19 pandemic has proven disastrous, and prompted the question: who’s to blame for these new outbreaks?

Although administrators are quick to blame student behavior, in this post, I will argue that the administrations are ultimately at fault – their negligence has put students’ health at risk and exacerbated the public health catastrophe.

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Kirkland, WA / USA - circa March 2020: Street view of the Life Care Center of Kirkland building, ground zero of the coronavirus outbreak in Kirkland.

Why We Must Hold Nursing Homes Legally Accountable for COVID-19 Outbreaks

By Laura Karas

Immunity from liability disincentivizes nursing homes from expending the time, money, effort, and resources needed to keep residents safe.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the stakes of the issue: granting legal immunity to nursing homes for COVID-related care is tantamount to leaving our most vulnerable out on the street corner.

According to data from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, there have been over 216,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 53,000 COVID-19 deaths among nursing home residents.  These figures are likely underestimates, as nursing homes have had to adjust to federal reporting guidelines.  Recent data indicate that deaths in nursing homes are on the rise in states with COVID-19 resurgences.

Kimberly Hall North in Windsor, Connecticut, was one of many nursing homes ravaged by COVID-19.  Reports in June of this year cited 47 deaths among its 138 residents, a death toll exceeding one-third of the nursing home’s resident population.

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Person typing on computer.

Telehealth Policy Brought to the Fore in the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Vrushab Gowda

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the value of telehealth as both a tool of necessity (e.g., minimizing infection risk, conserving thinly stretched healthcare resources, reducing cost) as well as of innovation.

Telehealth services have surged in recent months; in April alone, they constituted over 40 percent of primary care visits nationwide and over 73 percent of those in Boston. “Increasing Access to Care: Telehealth during COVID-19,” a recent publication in the Journal of Law and the Biosciences, dissects the issues that have accompanied the growth of telehealth and identifies further areas of potential reform.

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Senior citizen woman in wheelchair in a nursing home.

COVID-19 and Nursing Homes: The New York State Experience

By James W. Lytle 

While New York State has generally earned high marks for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, nagging questions continue over whether more might have been done to protect patients in nursing homes and other congregate settings — and whether some of the state’s policies even may have made matters worse.

Lessons from the New York State experience may prove helpful to those regions that have displaced New York as the epicenter of the American pandemic, and may help ensure that adequate steps are taken to protect the most frail and vulnerable among us from any resurgence of COVID-19 or from some future disease.

Although New York was among the hardest hit states, with the highest number of deaths thus far (over 32,000, more than twice as many as California), the aggressive steps taken by Governor Andrew Cuomo and his administration have been widely credited with reducing the spread of the disease in the State.

But a key, sustained criticism of the Governor’s handling of the pandemic focuses on the state’s nursing homes.

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Busy Nurse's Station In Modern Hospital

Finetuning Liability Protections in the COVID-19 Emergency

By James W. Lytle 

When the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent, legal commentators, physician organizations, and health care policymakers sounded the alarm over the potential civil and criminal liabilities that practitioners and facilities might face during the emergency.

In short order, the federal government and many states enacted liability limitations.  At least two states—Maryland and Virginia—had pre-existing legislation that was triggered by the emergency, while many other states enacted or are considering new legislation to limit liability during the crisis.

While the source (executive or legislative), scope (civil or criminal), and precise terms of these liability protections varied by jurisdiction, the speed with which they were enacted was remarkable, given the intensely contentious political battles that typically ensue over medical malpractice and civil justice reform.

Predictably, at least one state has already begun to tinker and fine-tune its liability limitations. Just three months and twenty-one days after liability protections were enacted, the New York State legislature sent a bill to Governor Andrew Cuomo that curbs those protectionsThe Governor signed the bill into law on August 3rd.

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Kirkland, WA / USA - circa March 2020: Street view of the Life Care Center of Kirkland building, ground zero of the coronavirus outbreak in Kirkland.

How COVID-19 Could Drive Improvements in Care Facilities (Part II)

By Nicolas Terry, LLM and Tara Sklar, JD, MPH

This post is part II of a two-part series on COVID-19 and care facilities. In the first installment we assessed the centrality of care facilities to the COVID-19 pandemic and outlined the infection risks for residents and workers. In this second installment we will explore how improved regulation and enforcement, combined with liability rules, provide the best path forward to improve an industry that, despite its deficiencies, claims it deserves exceptional immunity.

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Gloved hand holding medical rapid test labeled COVID-19 over sheet of paper listing the test result as negative.

How COVID-19 Could Drive Improvements in Care Facilities (Part I)

By Nicolas Terry, LLM and Tara Sklar, JD, MPH

Introduction

This post is part I of a two-part series on COVID-19 and care facilities. In this first installment we assess the centrality of care facilities to the COVID-19 pandemic and outline the infection risks for residents and workers. In the second installment we will explore how improved regulation and enforcement, combined with liability rules, provide the best path forward to improve an industry that, despite its deficiencies, claims it deserves exceptional immunity.

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State Civil Liability Protections for Physicians who Provide Care During Covid-19 Pandemic map.

How States are Protecting Health Care Providers from Legal Liability in the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Valerie Gutmann Koch

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, clinicians and policymakers alike have raised the alarm about potential legal liability for following crisis standards of care.

Liability protections may be necessary when, due to the circumstances of the emergency, a state faces scarce resources (such as ventilators or ICU beds) and the state activates its crisis standards of care (CSC). A CSC authorizes the legal prioritization of patients for scarce resources based on changing circumstances and increased demands. CSCs provide a mechanism for reallocating staff, facilities, and supplies to meet needs during a public health emergency.

Notably, and by necessity, the standard of care that clinicians may be able to provide during the COVID-19 pandemic may depart significantly from standard non-emergency medical practice. In a non-crisis setting, the prevailing medical standard of care focuses on the needs of each individual patient and is centered on the principle of informed consent. In a public health emergency, however, such concentrated care may be impossible or inadvisable due to: (1) resource limitations and (2) the goal of saving as many lives as possible.

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