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LB 913: Further Protection from Assault for Nebraska Health Care Professionals

on Tuesday, 3 July 2018 in Health Law Alert: Erin E. Busch, Editor

Under LB 913, it will now be a crime to assault a Nebraska health care professional with a bodily fluid. The bill was passed in the most recent session of the Nebraska Legislature and goes into effect on July 19, 2018.

Prior to the enactment of LB 913, it was a crime to knowingly and intentionally strike any “public safety officer” with any “bodily fluid.” The definition of “public safety officer” was amended to add a “health care professional.” The effect is that it will now also be a crime to strike a health care professional with a bodily fluid.

A “health care professional” means a physician or other health care practitioner who is licensed, certified, or registered to perform specified health services consistent with state law who practices at a hospital or a health clinic. “Bodily fluid” means any naturally produced secretion or waste product generated by the human body and includes, but not limited to, any quantity of human blood, urine, saliva, mucus, vomitus, seminal fluid, or feces. Thus, it would be a crime, for example, for a patient to knowingly and intentionally spit on a hospital physician or nurse.

The penalties for assault with a bodily fluid are not insignificant. Under current Nebraska law, assault with a bodily fluid is a Class I misdemeanor, but is aggravated to a Class IIIA felony (1) if the bodily fluid strikes the victim’s eyes, mouth, or skin, and (2) the attacker knew that the source of the fluid was infected with HIV, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C. One who commits a Class I misdemeanor is subject to a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment, a $1,000 fine, or both. A Class IIIA felony carries a maximum punishment of three years’ imprisonment, a $10,000 fine, or both.

The passage of LB 913 will also require a change in signage. Under current law, every hospital and health clinic must display at all times in a prominent place a printed warning sign with a minimum height of twenty inches and a minimum width of fourteen inches, with each letter to be a minimum of one-fourth inch in height. Section 28-929.02 of the Nebraska Revised Statutes was amended by LB 913, and the sign will now be required to read: “WARNING: ASSAULTING A HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL WHO IS ENGAGED IN THE PERFORMANCE OF HIS OR HER OFFICIAL DUTIES, INCLUDING STRIKING A HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL WITH ANY BODILY FLUID, IS A SERIOUS CRIME WHICH MAY BE PUNISHABLE AS A FELONY.”

Nebraska Hospitals and health clinics should change the signage that they had presumably already posted to conform to the change in law. It would also be prudent for such hospitals and health care clinics to train health care professionals on the change in law so that they are aware of it and can take advantage of the new protections.

As for Iowa, while there is no specific statute regarding assault with bodily fluids on health care professionals, the general assault statute, Iowa Code Section 708.1, coupled with the Iowa assault statute that applies to assault on jail or prison employees (Iowa Code Section 708.3B), indicates that assaults encompass assaults with a bodily fluid. Further, the penalty for assault can be aggravated if the victim is a health care provider. See Iowa Code Section 708.3A.

Joseph P. (“Joe”) Loudon

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