NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Governor Bill Lee signed an executive order that grants limited COVID-19-related liability protection to health care providers.
Executive Order No. 53 ensures health care providers in Tennessee will not be held responsible for any injury, illness, death or damages related to COVID-19 that are not considered gross negligence or willful misconduct.
“Hospitals, nursing homes, and health care workers are on the front lines of fighting this pandemic, and this EO provides protection from liability with respect to COVID-impacted treatment and resource availability, except in cases of gross negligence or willful misconduct,” said Gov. Lee.
The order goes into effect July 2 and lasts until July 31, 2020 and is not retroactive.
It was part of a controversial bill that failed in the final hours of the legislative session. The Tennessee Recovery and Safe Harbor Act would have allowed COVID-19-related lawsuits against health care providers as well as businesses only where there is "gross negligence" or "willful misconduct," raising the legal standard higher than is required in typical civil lawsuits.
The bill received overwhelming support from Republicans, but a small group of democrats took issue with the limits the bill would place on consumers.
The Senate version of the bill was written to be retroactive, meaning businesses could not be sued for anything as early as March - the beginning of the pandemic. But its legality was questioned.
Other lawmakers took issue with the term "gross negligence" and "willful misconduct." The AARP of Tennessee and the Tennessee Citizen Action also came out against the bill.
Republicans who supported the bill, including sponsor Michael Curcio from Dickson, said Tennessee small businesses can't afford to be sued.
"Because the law only allows us to take this action for healthcare providers, any other liability issues will need to be taken up by the General Assembly," explained Governor Lee. "We do understand there's an urgent need to address liability for businesses, non-profits and schools. I plan to call a special session for this."
NewsChannel 5 reached out to families impacted by COVID-19, they said the "liability protection" makes it nearly impossible for consumers to hold providers and businesses accountable.
Tennessee Hospital Association (THA) President and CEO Wendy Long, M.D., made the following statement in response to the order:
“Tennessee’s hospitals are grateful to Governor Lee for his latest executive action that recognizes the immense pressures faced by healthcare providers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. The liability protections granted in Executive Order 53 will provide hospitals and healthcare professionals with appropriate safeguards as providers respond to the growing number of cases and hospitalizations across our state.
“Continually evolving health guidance from federal and state agencies helps ensure appropriate and effective treatment of all patients – both COVID-19-positive and those receiving care for non-virus-related conditions. However, as a result of the changing guidance in the midst of the pandemic, it is vitally important to protect healthcare providers from baseless or opportunistic litigation.
“Today’s order rightly does not extend protections in cases of gross negligence or willful misconduct, which underscores the commitment of hospitals to provide the safest and most effective care despite the challenges of our current environment.
“I am incredibly proud of the work of hospitals over the past four months to care for communities and face the biggest public health crisis of our generation. THA and its members remain unwavering in our commitment to fight COVID-19 and support the health needs of all Tennesseans.”