Whitmer vetoes bill to expand immunity from medical lawsuits

Coronavirus

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives a May 28, 2020, briefing on coronavirus in Michigan and how the economic hit has affected the state budget. (Courtesy Michigan Executive Office of the Governor)

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday vetoed Republican-sponsored legislation that would have given additional health providers and facilities legal protection from lawsuits in any state-declared emergency and have continued the immunity for longer during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The governor, a Democrat, said she would have considered signing the bill if it only had attempted to “mop up” an issued created when the GOP-led Legislature refused to lengthen her declared COVID-19 emergency. The measure goes “much further,” however, she wrote in a letter to senators.

“For example, this bill would give health care providers and the facilities that employ them broad immunity every time an emergency or disaster is declared, regardless of whether the circumstances demand this extreme measure,” Whitmer said. “A person receiving treatment at a hospital or a resident in a nursing home would be powerless to seek relief when they are harmed in any but the most egregious cases.”

The legislation was supported by hospitals, doctors, nurses and nursing homes but opposed by plaintiffs’ lawyers.

One of the statutes Whitmer has cited to declare the virus emergency — the underpinning of her various orders to curb the spread of COVID-19 — includes a provision shielding health providers and hospitals from legal liability except if there is willful or gross negligence. But the immunity is in question because majority Republican legislators have not lengthened the state of disaster and in July rescinded an order that granted the immunity.

The governor instead has been able to extend the emergency with an older law that allows her to act unilaterally but which does not reference legal protections.

The bill sponsor, Republican Sen. Michael MacDonald of Macomb Township, issued a statement that accused Whitmer of deciding “to protect trial lawyers instead of the front-line health care workers who are making critical decisions each day to save lives from COVID-19. By vetoing this measure, the governor is just making it harder for medical professionals to do their job.”

Also Monday, the state reported eight more coronavirus-related deaths and 557 new confirmed cases. The total number of confirmed and probable deaths was 6,526, the ninth-most in the country and the eight-highest rate per capita. The case count exceeded 97,300.

Michigan’s seven-day case average, 710 — below the peaks of April but above the lows in June — has remained mostly constant over the past two weeks, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from John Hopkins University.

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