Opponents argue Missouri’s proposed COVID liability bill would protect bad nursing homes

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — By the time a nursing home sent a 69-year-old Harrisonville man to the hospital, his body was covered with gaping bedsores. One was so bad, maggots were found inside. He died not long afterward.

His family has filed suit, accusing the nursing home of negligence.

But now a bill before the Missouri Legislature could prevent lawsuits like this from being filed, opponents of Senate Bill 51 argue.

“It is written so broadly that it, in effect, does away with medical malpractice and nursing home claims for the next four years,” attorney Rachel Stahle said.

Senate Bill 51 is supposed to protect Missouri businesses from litigation caused by the pandemic and is a top priority of Gov. Mike Parson.

But Stahle said the biggest winners will be bad nursing homes. She said many of the nursing homes being sued have a long history of not providing adequate care to residents. Those problems have worsened dramatically since the pandemic.

“This is neglect like we’ve never seen before,” Stahle said. “Most of it is due to the fact that the family members still can’t get into the nursing homes. They can’t keep eyes on their loved ones and ensure that their loved ones are getting the care they need or getting to the hospital when they need to.”

However, the sponsor of Senate Bill 51, Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R- St Joseph, said Missouri businesses need to be protected from what he called frivolous lawsuits.

“Small business owners are hanging on by a thread right now,” Luetkemeyer said. “We want to make sure in Missouri that we are standing up and protecting those small business owners, frontline healthcare workers and schools who helped us weather this pandemic so that they are able to get through this and still come out on the other side and be in business.”

Luetkemeyer said that the bill does nothing to undermine valid lawsuits against bad businesses.

But Stahle said that’s not true. She cited specific language in section 5-C of the bill that prevents people from suing healthcare companies like nursing homes if “any harm…damage, breach or tort resulting in the personal injury … was impacted as a result of COVID-19.”

Stahle said every nursing will use that clause to argue that its problems were caused in some way by the pandemic and, therefore, they should not be held responsible. 

Dan Mehan, CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, disagreed and insisted the bill only protects good businesses who follow the law.

“If you are doing the right thing and you are trying to reopen and provide those jobs and provide those opportunities, you should have some degree of certainty and protection that predatory trial attorneys aren’t going to try and target your livelihood,” Mehan said.

Mehan said other states have already passed similar legislation. But Stahle said no state has passed a law as draconian as what she said is being considered in Missouri.

“This bill is allowing (bad) facilities to just have carte blanche to continue to provide bad care,” Stahle said.

Senate Bill 51 is on its final reading in the Missouri Senate before heading to the House.

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