COVID-19 bill may offer protections for Washington state health care providers

Photo credit: Ragina

A new worker protection law winding through the Washington state legislature could provide health care providers extra breathing room to treat patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Bill 5271, sponsored by Senators Keith Wagoner (R), Jamie Pedersen (D) and Manka Dhingra (D), would provide liability protections to health providers and facilities by taking into consideration the factors affecting standard of care amid the pandemic.

Standard of care, which can be summarized as the level and type of care that a reasonably competent and skilled practitioner in a given profession at a given time, is an important part of court cases involving health practitioners. If it is determined that the practitioner failed the meet the standard of care, then they can be held liable for malpractice or negligence.

“What it really does is it provides them [providers and facilities] limited liability in the execution of their duties so that they aren’t held liable for changes in our understanding of the disease, of COVID, and things that they did that were best practices at the beginning of the pandemic, that have changed since then,” Wagonar told Washington State Wire. “It really is going to allow them to do their job in an efficient and effective manner without risk of liability for things that they really have no control over.”

Throughout the pandemic, states including Washington have enacted restrictions on the provision of health care to adapt to the requirements of coronavirus outbreaks.  Gov. Jay Inslee, for example, issued a proclamation prohibiting non-urgent procedures unless the withholding of such treatment would lead to patient harm in the next three months. 

This raised a number of questions, including what constituted patient harm, according to Taya Briley, executive vice president of the Washington State Hospital Association.

“Clinicians had never had their hands tied in this way before,” she told Washington State Wire. “If a cancer diagnosis was delayed because of diagnostic tests that can’t be done, what was the liability for that? If opioid dependence increased because of a delayed joint surgery, who was responsible for that? We couldn’t answer those questions.”

Senate Bill 5271 addresses these concerns by requiring proof that a health care provider failed to exercise the care reasonably expected of a practitioner in the same profession in the same time frame during the pandemic, according to Washington State Wire. 

In determining whether a practitioner failed to meet the standard of care, the bill stipulates that it must be taken into account whether COVID-19-related lack of resources played a role in the injury and whether the practitioner was acting in good faith based on guidance from federal, state or local officials in response to the pandemic and those guidelines are applicable to the provider. 

In these ways, the bill helps protect health care providers from lawsuits relating to matters that are outside of their control during the pandemic. 


Emery Reddy helps workers. Call us if you have workers’ comp, wrongful termination, injury, L&I, or other employment law claim. You won’t get better advice.

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