Election 2020-Pennsylvania

File photo: Gov. Tom Wolf.

Gov. Tom Wolf has signed an executive order protecting medical personnel from malpractice lawsuits during the coronavirus crisis, but some providers — including doctors — claimed the action fell short of the broader protections needed.

The immunity covers “good faith” actions by licensed medical workers “serving on the front lines of the disaster response,” Wolf said. It applies only to individuals and not hospitals, nursing homes, health systems or businesses making medical equipment, officials said.

Dr. Lawrence John, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Association, said Wolf’s order “is a good first step but more needs to be done.” He expressed disappointment the order doesn’t extend to physicians in outpatient settings.

“Physicians practicing in outpatient settings play a vital role in keeping patients out of hospitals,” John said. “If it weren’t for these ‘frontline’ physicians, emergency rooms would be inundated and overwhelmed. We don’t want to create a culture of defensive medicine, where physicians in outpatient settings refer patients with COVID-19 symptoms to the emergency room for fear of being sued.”

Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, said Wolf’s order doesn’t “go nearly far enough” because hospitals, health systems, and nursing homes are not granted immunity in the order.

Wolf's plan also leaves out businesses such as those that pivoted from making their current products to manufacturing personal protection equipment such as masks, Barr said.

“I’m glad the governor took a measured approach,” said Sud Patel, president of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, a group representing trial lawyers.

Wolf’s order does not cover criminal acts, gross negligence, fraud, malice, or other willful misconduct. It took effect immediately after Wolf signed it Wednesday.

Medical personnel granted immunity under Wolf’s order will be covered from the start of the declared disaster on March 6, said Wolf press secretary Lyndsay Kensinger. It is temporary and expires when the emergency declaration ends.

The trial lawyers wanted no immunity but found the limited approach acceptable, Patel said.

“This (order) was as limited as it possibly gets,” Barr said. “The trial lawyers are giving up nothing in this.”

Curt Schroder, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Civil Justice Reform, a pro-business group, called Wolf’s order “one of the weakest such measures enacted in the nation.”