(Reuters) -In a setback for nursing home operators facing hundreds of covid-19 negligence and illegal deaths, a federal appeals court said on Wednesday that lawsuits against two New Jersey facilities should continue in state courts.
Nursing homes had claimed that the lawsuits against them belonged in federal court, citing a US emergency law called the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, which protects those fighting the pandemic from trial. Philadelphia affirmed a district court decision and rejected the nursing home's argument that the PREP Act was so far-reaching that the families' state-class negligence claims were indeed federal claims that belonged in federal court.
The families "only claimed garden- various state law claims, so this is where the court belongs," the court said.
Neil Lapinski, a lawyer from Gordon, Fournaris & Mammarella who represented the families, said "the court has provided a clear roadmap for plaintiffs" which was in line with the court's rulings.
The cases were brought before a court in April 2020 by families of four residents who died of COVID-1
The operator said it was protected by the PREP Act and the cases belonged to a federal court. however, that the case should be tried in a state court, and the nursing home operator appealed.
The 2005 PREP Act is intended to start US defense against an outbreak like COVID-19 by protecting from moods that create critical products, from diagnostic tests to vaccines, as well as doctors and drug distributors. Nursing homes have said the law should protect them from liability because they were on the front lines of the outbreak.
Wednesday's ruling could help move cases, says Adam Pulver of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, a consumer advocacy group that filed an amicus card with the appellate court.
"By being the first appellate court to weigh in, the third circle signaled to judges around the country that these appeals are unlikely to succeed and there is no reason to prevent cases from proceeding while the care home appeal, he said.
The third district court ruling that determining whether the PREP Act protects nursing homes from pandemic-related trials should be decided by a state court, although other federal appeals courts are expected to address that issue in the coming months.
Lann McIntyre, a lawyer from Lewis Brisbois who represented the nursing homes, declined to comment.
The appeal was heard by three Republican officials – Michael Cha gares, Jane Roth and David Porter, who were appointed by President Donald Trump and wrote the opinion.