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A Tale of Ten Immunities
by Victoria Coolbaugh
As part of our government affairs operation, we often refer to the number of bills and special interests that put forth various immunities in specific areas of law. It is difficult to adequately explain how many and the types of immunity issues we fight. Many of these bills may seem insignificant when you look at each one individually. Others are not so benign. However, when you look at them as a whole and consider that NTLA has been fighting this type of specialized legislation for over 40 years, you can quickly extrapolate the damage to the tort system if we didn't address these issues every session. There would be no tort system left for victims to use to seek justice. So, while it is sometimes difficult to fight these issues, we continue to do so because in the long run, we must protect both the injured of today and those of the future.
Here is a brief look at the ten of the immunity bills we worked on this session (and please remember, this is only ten of the nearly 200 bills we actively lobbied!).
AB 87: This was a great piece of legislation to protect elders from financial abuse via reporting from financial institutions. During the amendment process, it was proposed that the only recourse for victims should be a civil penalty through the Attorney General's office and that banks would be immune if they did not report the abuse. Since the entire concept of the bill was to encourage reporting, we objected to the amendment and a compromise was reached.
SB 5: This bill would allow for cancer patients to donate unopened, unused medication to other cancer patients. It included an immunity provision for the donors to which we did not object, but also included immunity for dispensing the medications, with no safety precautions in place. The bill was amended to also make the drug manufacturers immune in the broadest possible sense. We objected and worked hard with the pharmaceutical industry to find a compromise. Eventually the bill died when no compromise was found.
SB 95: This bill was an expansion of the recreational use immunity statute. We worked with the sponsor and found an equitable compromise.
SB 132: This bill also expanded recreational use immunity for over 100 miles of proposed bike trails in northern Nevada. We strenuously objected to the expansion and eventually the bill's sponsor agreed to a much narrower version of the bill.
AB 4: This bill provided OB/GYNs certain Good Samaritan status in emergency situations. We worked with the bill sponsor on some technical aspects of the bill and to protect OB/GYNs in the situations where others already had the same protections. We cleaned up the chapter of law as a whole, as it was unclear and confusing in many ways.
SB 174: Known around the country as "Sorry Works," this bill provided immunity to physicians who apologized to their patients for their negligence. This bill didn't exactly conform to the national version of "Sorry Works" and we found the notion of apologizing to a patient's face, but then denying responsibility in a court of law disingenuous. Many legislators agreed and the bill failed.
SB 266: This bill mandates HIV tests for pregnant women. The bill was amended in the Senate to allow immunity for doctors who did not perform the test. With no penalty for not doing the test, we were very concerned women would not receive the test and babies would continue to be infected with HIV during birth. The amendment was removed in the Assembly and in the last few hours of the session, the Senate agreed to put the bill back into its original form.
SB 378: Not technically an immunity bill, but very close to one. This bill capped verdicts against certain nonprofit organizations at $100,000. We objected to the absolute unfairness of this measure. It died in the Assembly.
SB 474: This bill provided a government agency with immunity if they pay for a personal assistant for a disabled person and the personal assistant mistreated their client. Our testimony showed how the state should, in fact, be responsible for the assistants they pay, and the bill died.
AB 347: This bill extended the protections the medical profession has for professional negligence to all areas of tort law. Yeah! Immunity for everyone! The bill's sponsor withdrew the bill and the bill was "indefinitely postponed."
As you can see from this synopsis of just a few bills, the work we do is complex, varied and deals with a plethora of issues. Many bills we weigh in on are not traditional "trial lawyer" issues. However, when it comes to allowing everyone the right to seek justice against even the most powerful of corporate interests, we continue to fight for that right.
Victoria Coolbaugh has been with NTLA for 14 years and serves as the Association's Deputy Executive Director. Her primary responsibilities are government affairs, communications and member services.