New York City endured a firestorm of Covid-19 cases this past spring that took many people by surprise. This includes government leaders and medical staff of area hospitals. Only now are stories emerging about just how bad it really was.
An inside report
Early on, Governor Andrew Cuomo designated Brooklyn hospital SUNY Downstate Medical Center as one of the hospitals that would only treat coronavirus. Insiders at the hospital report extreme problems with enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and critical medication shortages. One insider called the situation negligent. The hospital’s task force asked staff to search their homes for equipment they could use, such as goggles and masks. They could only wear one gown per shift. At the time, there was a world-wide shortage of PPE. Unfortunately, many people died at that hospital and others across the city.
Could the crisis have been prevented?
Time has given New Yorkers some perspective on the crisis, especially as similar situations emerge across the country. Questions have emerged regarding whether the state, the city and individual hospitals could have done more to be better prepared. If the answer is yes, then that could open doors to claims against state and local authorities for death and injuries caused by Covid-19. The situation especially put healthcare workers at risk due to their lack of PPE.
Governor Cuomo’s March 23rd executive order limits legal action for coronavirus-related injuries to those caused by gross negligence on the part of medical workers. New York law normally defines medical malpractice as a medical professional causing harm when they fail to apply the normal standard of care for a particular illness or injury. Gross negligence, on the other hand, requires a showing of reckless indifference regarding the patient.
Although gross negligence is a much higher standard, a patient or family member could still make a successful claim. Courts would have to weigh each case on an individual basis, however. Overall, it seems that a negligence claim against the state, hospitals or a medical worker based on Covid-19 would be an uphill battle, but not necessarily impossible.