The burden of proof has been raised for those wanting to bring COVID-related lawsuits against nursing homes in Arizona. 

Gov. Doug Ducey (R) on Monday signed legislation (S.B. 1377) that ensures healthcare professionals, including nursing homes, and other businesses have a liability shield from pandemic-related suits. Specifically for nursing homes, the legislation requires plaintiffs to provide clear and convincing evidence that a healthcare provider failed to act or acted with willful misconduct or gross negligence.

Previous executive orders issued by the governor were similar but those protections expired on March 30, explained David Voepel, CEO of the Arizona Health Care Association. The new legislation is effective through Dec. 31, 2021, and retroactive back to March 2020. 

David A. Voepel

“Without this legislation, frivolous lawsuits will happen at an increased rate,” Voepel told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News on Tuesday. “This law doesn’t stop anyone from suing, but it does raise the bar. Now those businesses that have struggled through COVID-19 don’t have to go through the added expense of fending off these frivolous suits.

“It only takes one to bankrupt a business and to put more people out of work,” he added.

Several states, including New York and Connecticut, have repealed legal immunity measures that were first established during the start of the pandemic. Voepel credited Arizona’s “pro-business” environment for enacting protections.

“It shouldn’t be a surprise that they would continue these immunity measures throughout the rest of the pandemic,” he said. “I think you’ll find that this situation will help promote Arizona as more pro-business, bringing more and more companies and jobs to this state.”