A New York appellate court ruled in Whitehead v. Pine Haven Operating LLC on November 30, 2023, that the repeal of a law granting nursing homes immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits does not apply retroactively. This means that a nursing home cannot be sued for allegedly causing a resident's death from the virus in April 2020.
The "Emergency or Disaster Treatment Protection Act" (EDTPA) provided this immunity during the pandemic but was repealed in April 2021. However, the court determined that the repeal cannot be applied to lawsuits filed before its enactment.
In this specific case, the nursing home asserted immunity under EDTPA and presented evidence that the care it provided to the deceased resident was directly related to COVID-19 treatment and prevention, supporting its immunity claim under the now-repealed law. This ruling aligns with a similar decision made by another New York court, further limiting the ability of residents and their families to sue nursing homes for COVID-19-related deaths during the early stages of the pandemic.
Some of the potential impacts of this ruling include: limiting the number of lawsuits filed against nursing homes related to the pandemic, especially considering the early months when widespread outbreaks and knowledge gaps resulted in many fatalities; shifting the burden of proof in indicating that plaintiffs need to present strong evidence to overcome the immunity granted by the EDTPA; and an increase in settlements.