Emergency Legal Preparedness and Response

Latest Resource

Issue Brief: Emergency Response and Tort Liability

This resource outlines federal and Michigan laws that might apply to protect paid and volunteer health professionals from liability for negligence in emergency response situations.

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When Public Health Goes to Court: The Court and Public Health Emergencies

This webinar focuses on the judicial system’s role in a public health emergency, examining how a judge may approach quarantine and isolation hearings, and the subsequent issuing of orders in a public health emergency. View the playback.

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From the Public Health Law Blog

Science over Fear is the Lesson of Nurse’s Ebola Story

The story of Nurse Kaci Hickox, who famously fought quarantine attempts after returning from Seirra Leone, is a cautionary tale for those charged with protecting the public’s health from infectious diseases like Ebola.

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From the Legal Assistance Library

Ebola Emergency Legal Preparedness: Quarantine of Ill Travelers

Aid workers exposed to the Ebola virus have returned to the United States from West Africa, prompting questions about the enforcement of quarantines.

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Primary Legal Issues

Legal authorities vary across states, tribal governments and localities during declared emergencies. As seen during the 2009-2010 H1N1 outbreak, jurisdictions may take divergent legal approaches in their responses to national or regional public health threats. Conflicting laws and overlapping jurisdictions further complicate key decisions on when or how to respond.

Public health officials may face many critical legal and policy decisions during public health emergencies, including:

  • Inter-jurisdictional legal coordination of federal, tribal, state and local actors in real-time emergencies under changing legal norms
  • The ability to issue isolation or quarantine orders, or other social distancing methods, to control public health threats
  • Whether to close or dismiss schools, or other public assemblies, temporarily or for prolonged periods to prevent the spread of communicable diseases
  • The authority to mandate vaccinations for minors or autonomous adults, including health care workers
  • Licensing, credentialing and privileging out-of-state health practitioners
  • Inter-jurisdictional management of scarce resources including personnel, vaccines, shelter and sustenance
  • Omnipresent concerns over liability of public health practitioners during emergencies

Technical Assistance Capacity

The Network for Public Health Law can provide legal guidance, training and support to address these and other legal and policy issues in emergency preparedness. These issues may be addressed during non-emergencies through advance planning and education, innovative exercises and other training efforts. During emergency declarations, the Network can provide real-time legal guidance to help public health leaders as they respond and make critical decisions with potential legal ramifications.

For legal technical assistance and support with emergency legal preparedness and response:

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The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, please consult specific legal counsel. For more information on the type of legal assistance the Network can provide, please see frequently asked questions.