NEWS10 ABC

Grieving family waits in limbo for NYS healthcare immunity provisions to change

CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Nursing homes and hospitals in New York still have a legal shield from lawsuits dealing with COVID-19 patients. A repeal bill has passed in the Assembly but still needs to go through the Senate. One local family feels the immunity law is blocking them from the option to seek justice through the legal system.

Ronald Nicholas from Rensselaer County lost both his brother and mother between December 2020 and January 2021. They died within just about 10 days of each other. It was a heartbreaking loss for the family.

“[My mother] raised seven kids for 41 years without any help. She was everything to us,” Nicholas said.

According to Nicholas, both received care in hospitals, and their deaths were attributed to COVID-19. However, Nicholas has questions, concerns, and doubts about his mother, Samia’s diagnosis, and the care given to his brother, Tony. If he had the option, he would attempt to take legal action over his grievances.

“If this happened back in March, I would understand it better. But right now, they’ve got all the new medicine,” Nicholas told NEWS10, “and these hospitals are not giving these patients the proper care because of the immunity.”

Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker has refuted claims that this immunity would lead health care workers to provide substandard care to patients. However, even Attorney General Letitia James takes issue with the provisions, saying they should be eliminated. Lawmakers who back the repeal bill think it gives health care executives a “disincentive” to spend less money on care.

Nicholas’s family doesn’t have the option to sue, regardless of whether or not they have a case. Parts of the immunity law were rolled back in August, but still remain in place for the care of COVID-19 patients.

The validity of any argument for the care of a loved one is for a jury to decide, according to lawyer Donald W. Boyajian, who doesn’t think such sweeping immunity is necessary.

“Common people can take the situation that these institutions are in into account when they are assessing the facts, and every situation is different. So it’s better to leave the individual case to the individual jury, if it got to that, to determine whether they met their standard of care, or didn’t, rather than some blanket immunity,” Boyajian said, “which prevents righteous cases from moving forward.”

Boyajian says the last thing a grieving family wants to deal with is more roadblocks keeping them from getting closure. “It’s counterintuitive that, when they perceive something was done incorrectly or wrong, or that an institution failed to do what they should’ve done, that they don’t have the right to take action,” he said.