Legal Pearls

How Far Does COVID-Related Legal Immunity Extend?

    Ann W. Latner, JD

    A 63-year-old woman presented to the emergency department on March 21, 2020, with a sore throat and headache. She also reported that she had a heart condition. After conducting tests, the emergency medicine physician believed that the patient was at risk for an ST-elevation myocardial infarction. The hospital did not have a cardiac catheterization laboratory, so the physician arranged a transfer to a larger hospital that did.

    When the patient arrived at the larger hospital, the intake staff did not take her to the catheterization laboratory because they suspected the patient might have had COVID-19. The hospital was experiencing a shortage in personal protective equipment, and to preserve supplies and slow the spread of the virus, the hospital had enacted a policy of not admitting patients with suspected COVID-19 into the cardiac catheterization laboratory.

    The patient was given a COVID-19 test and put into isolation. Rapid tests were not yet available, and so the patient’s results did not come back until the evening of March 24. The next morning (March 25), the attending physician ordered the patient be treated in the cardiac catheterization laboratory, and an appointment was set for later that afternoon. However, the patient was found dead on the floor that morning.

    Are the hospital and physician at fault?

    (Answer and discussion on next page)