AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas lawmakers are attempting to shield health care providers and first responders from COVID-19 lawsuits. But legal experts question whether the legislature can implement a retroactive statute.
Senate Bill 6 would require a plaintiff to demonstrate reckless or intentional, willful, or wanton misconduct in order to bring a civil lawsuit against a health care provider for care or treatment administered during a declared disaster or pandemic.
If approved by the legislature and signed into law by the governor, the bill would become law on September 1. But the law would also apply to lawsuits filed on or after March 13, 2020 if the action isn’t finalized by Sept. 1.
“This is perhaps a precedent-setting case,” said Rodney Lawson, a Dallas-based liability and medical malpractice attorney. “I have some serious questions as to whether that’s constitutional because you’re changing horses in the middle of the stream.”
The bill would protect activities like testing and diagnosing diseases and wearing personal protective equipment. It would also cover vaccine and supply manufacturers.
“[The bill is] a recognition that this is a very extreme situation that health care providers are operating in and a recognition that they’re putting their lives and livelihoods at stake in responding to this COVID,” said Jon Opelt, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Patient Access.
Senate Bill 6 would also limit a person’s liability for exposing someone else to a pandemic disease. The person who exposed the individual would have to knowingly fail to warn the other person and knowingly fail to implement or comply with government guidelines.
The family of an Austin man who contracted COVID-19 and later died is suing the nursing home where he worked as a certified nursing assistant.
The attorneys for Maurice Dotson’s family declined to comment for this story.
Cissy Sanders’ 71-year-old mother lives at Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in South Austin where 14 residents have died from COVID-19, according to Austin Public Health. She fears a loss of accountability if nursing homes and health care providers inch closer to immunity.
“My mom’s nursing home was an outbreak facility,” Sanders said. “I hear a lot of times lawmakers talking about we want to ensure our seniors’ health and safety and we want to make sure they’re protected and then this legislation does the exact opposite.”