Nursing Home Covid-19 Death Claims Sent Back to State Court

A case against a California nursing home over a resident’s alleged coronavirus death can proceed in state court despite the facility’s bid to move it to federal court, a U.S. district judge ruled.

The decision highlights the extent to which a federal public readiness law prevents state-law, pandemic-related negligence claims. At least a half dozen federal circuits are hearing similar cases.

The Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act doesn’t completely preempt the plaintiffs’ claims because they don’t allege the death was “causally connected” to the use of any covered countermeasure, Judge John F. Walter of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California ruled June 25.

The PREP Act gives nursing homes immunity from claims arising from the administration or use of medical countermeasures such as vaccines and medications.

Plaintiff Olive Reed sued Sunbridge Hallmark Health Services LLC in Los Angeles County Superior Court after Lawrence Reed allegedly developed an “entirely preventable” Covid infection that led to his death. The plaintiff argued that Sunbridge failed to conduct nursing assessments, properly monitor Reed, or take the proper precautions to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Sunbridge moved to remove the case to federal court because it argued that the PREP Act preempted the claims. The district court rejected Sunbridge’s arguments.

Walter ordered the case remanded back to the state court. “Numerous courts have concluded that allegations like these do not fall within the scope of the PREP Act,” he said.

Potter Handy LLP is representing the plaintiffs. Wilson Getty LLP, counsel for Sunbridge, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The case is Reed v. Sunbridge Hallmark Health Servs. LLC, C.D. Cal., No. CV 21-3702-JFW(AGRx), 6/25/21.

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