Legislative committee wants to gauge immunity for health volunteers
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A legislative interim committee Monday requested a survey of state laws that provide immunity from lawsuits for health care providers who volunteer at high school sporting events.
The issue of giving medical professionals immunity when they treat injured athletes was the sticking point that killed a bill in the 2012 regular session that would have put into state law standards for treating high school athletes who sustain concussions or head injuries.
During Monday's meeting of an education interim committee on student wellness, several doctors testified that the risk of malpractice suits keeps many health care professionals from serving as team physicians.
"We just brought in a new physician here, who's afraid to go on the sidelines because he's afraid he'll be sued," Dr. Gary Elkins of the Lincoln Primary Care Center told legislators.
"It is vital to our young student athletes that we keep good health care professionals on the sidelines," Elkins said. "You do not want to make it difficult to have someone like me, or Dr. [Ron] Stollings, or Dr. [Kelly] Roush on the sidelines. You want us to be there."
Roush, director of sports medicine services at the Holzer Clinic, testified earlier about the need to have health care professionals in attendance at all contact sports. Stollings, a physician and state senator, was on the conference committee that tried to work out a compromise on the sports concussion bill.
Stollings, who has served as team physician at numerous high school sports events, said that until the debate over that bill, he had assumed he had at least some immunity.
"It was my understanding, when I went out on the field that I had some civil liability protection," said Stollings, who called the debate an eye-opener for many physicians.
"You're not going to have these docs down on the field," he said of liability concerns.
During the 2012 session, legislation to put requirements for dealing with student athletes who sustain concussions or head injuries into law passed the Senate 34-0 and the House 100-0.
Under the bill, injured players could not return to practice or play until they had been evaluated and cleared by a health care provider.
The bill as it left the Senate provided immunity from civil liability to health care professionals who voluntarily provided the evaluations. However, the House Judiciary Committee removed that provision from the bill.
Currently, 36 states have laws setting requirements for treating student athletes who sustain concussions or head injuries.
Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, asked committee staff to determine how many of those states grant immunity to health care professionals who treat or evaluate injured players.
Senate Education Chairman Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, said the issue shouldn't be about doctors or trial lawyers.
"Above everything else, we should be looking at the health and safety of the kids," he said.