(Adds case details, paragraphs 3-10)
By Brendan Pierson
Nov 21 (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear California nursing home operator Glenhaven Healthcare’s attempt to avoid a lawsuit in state court over the death of a a resident of COVID-19, rejecting the company’s efforts to move the case to federal court to gain immunity from such litigation.
Judges dismissed Glenhaven Healthcare’s appeal of a lower court’s decision allowing the family of deceased resident Ricardo Saldana to continue the lawsuit in California state court.
Saldana died in 2020 at a retirement home in Glendale, California operated by Glenhaven Healthcare. His family sued the company, accusing him of elder abuse, willful misconduct, negligence and wrongful death.
The case concerns the scope of the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, a 2005 US law known as the PREP Act which authorized the federal government, during a public health emergency, to protect businesses engaged in providing “countermeasures” to the emergency against prosecution. .
The law does not apply in cases of serious injury or death caused by “willful misconduct”. When its shield applies, an injured person can instead seek compensation from a government fund, though most claims are denied.
Originally intended to encourage the distribution of vaccines and treatments during a possible bird flu outbreak, the law has been used as a defense by nursing homes in lawsuits accusing them of failing to protect residents from COVID. -19 during the pandemic that started in 2020.
Under then-President Donald Trump in January 2021, the US Department of Health and Human Services, pushed by nursing homes, said cases filed in state court involving the interpretation of the PREP Act should be sent to federal court.
The federal courts are divided on the issue. The United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco, ruled in the Saldana case that certain claims under state law may remain in state court.
Glenhaven argued that personal injury suits against entities that provide COVID-19 countermeasures belong in federal court. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Hospital Association and the American Health Care Association, a nursing home industry group, weighed in to support his Supreme Court petition.
“Forcing litigation over the PREP Act, including the scope of its applicability and the immunity it affords, to take place in 50 state court systems would defeat Congress’s purpose of ensuring the ‘uniformity and efficiency,’ they said in their brief to the Supreme Court. (Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)