The rapidly spreading coronavirus (the virus) has highlighted the glaring issues that Americans face when they are medically fragile or experience poverty. Many of these individuals and their families have suffered serious health and financial tolls because of the virus. Although the virus has wrought havoc on people across the socioeconomic and health spectrum, those residing in Washington D.C. nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, prisons, and shelters have suffered at alarming rates. The disparity in the number of cases at these facilities may be due to many factors; however, one common denominator is the lack of effective personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees and residents. The government provides these industries with protection from lawsuits for negligence claims related to their conduct during the crisis; however, there are limitations to this protection.
Although the country understands that these companies seek to help individuals survive the crisis, some situations may warrant a lawsuit. For example, one national news source described the harrowing accounts of healthcare workers who received shipments of outdated, ineffective PPE during a critical time. According to reports, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided some nursing homes with shipments of PPE; however, the shipments included loose gloves, masks made from underwear, and isolation gowns without openings. Regulators advised these facilities not to use the equipment, because they may present an infection-management risk. FEMA explained that the equipment met federal industry standards, but asked the private contractor to provide replacement equipment. They also claimed that the majority of their shipments were met without complaint.
Ineffective PPE, faulty medical devices, and unsafe drugs can take a devastating and potentially fatal toll on those that rely on the efficacy of these products. The Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act), affords the manufacturers and suppliers of these products with broad protection against lawsuits. However, the entities evoking protection must be a covered business, supply covered countermeasure products, and be engage in covered activities.