NJ Law Grants Civil and Criminal Immunity to COVID-19 Healthcare Providers

Molly Stubbs

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— Updated on April 27, 2020

NJ Law Grants Civil and Criminal Immunity to COVID-19 Healthcare Providers

On April 14, 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed new legislation into law granting an array of legal protections to frontline medical workers in the COVID-19 battle. This new law is a more stalwart follow up to the governor’s emergency executive order from earlier in April.

Some New Jersey lawmakers have expressed concern over the bill’s swift composition without time for public feedback. However, in the effort for expedited passage through the state legislature, an emergency vote in both houses was held just one day before arriving on Governor Murphy’s desk. In response to those critics, NJ Senate President—and lead sponsor of the bill—Steve Sweeney explained, “This is a public health emergency and we need to act now.”

Protections for Medical Professionals

The legislation begins with a disclaimer addressing reports it would grant immunity for, “any medical treatment rendered during the timeframe of the COVID-19 emergency.” This, simply put, “is not an accurate statement.” Rather, the bill clarifies that it is “not the Legislature’s intent to grant immunity for medical services…that are unrelated to the COVID-19 emergency.”

With that cleared up, the bill explains healthcare providers “shall not be liable for civil damages for injury or death alleged to have been sustained as a result of…providing medical services in support of the State’s response to the outbreak of coronavirus disease.” Medical professionals covered by these protections include physicians, physician assistants, advanced practice nurses, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, EMTs, paramedics, radiologic technologists, and any, “other health care professional whose professional practice is regulated pursuant to Title 45 of the Revised Statutes.” Legal protections also extend to actions taken in “good faith” in telehealth or telemedicine settings. However, these immunities will not cover any, “acts or omissions constituting a crime, actual fraud, actual malice, gross negligence, recklessness, or willful misconduct.”

Facility Immunity Terms

New Jersey’s new legislation also specifies its protections for health care facilities and systems. Any singular facility or organization which operates multiple facilities cannot be, “criminally or civilly liable for damages for injury or death,” that are impacted by medical supply shortages. This includes, “allocation of mechanical ventilators or other scarce medical resources.” Immunity applies only to those facilities that have adopted a “scarce critical resource allocation policy.”

Provisional Certification

For the duration of the public health emergency, the Commissioner of Health for the state is authorized to instate “provisional certification” to emergency medical personnel whose professional certification has expired. The bill also waives any requirements for reinstatement other than an application for provisional certification. The commissioner may, “require additional showings, such as a demonstration of proficiency,” in order to issue certification.

This authorization extends to provisional certification for any paramedic whose certification has expired in the last five years or is currently inactive. It also extends to paramedics who are not certified to practice in New Jersey and have not previously had their certification revoked or suspended. Paramedic provisional certification is valid for 6 months from the date of issuance.

New Jersey joins states such as New York and Wisconsin in providing legal immunity to healthcare workers embattled against coronavirus. Though critics warn the protections could be too broad, it is a notable piece of crisis legislation offering well needed legal refuge for frontline medical professionals.

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