Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Pennsylvania 'benevolent-gesture' bill moves forward

A revised version of a malpractice bill that was rejected in 2011 by Pennsylvania legislators was passed unanimously on June 25 by the state Senate and the House Judiciary Committee. The bill still needs a vote on the house floor. Bill 379, also known as "benevolent-gesture" legislation, would prohibit empathetic statements like condolences and apologies from being used against medical professionals in court. Laws similar to Bill 379 have passed in 36 states, Guam and the District of Columbia.

Most of the support for the bill comes from operators of assisted-living residences and health-care providers who are concerned about medical error and medical-malpractice lawsuits. Lawsuits of this kind were more common until 2002 when The Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error act passed. According to the state judicial system's website, such lawsuits have decreased by approximately 45 percent since 2002.

An earlier version of the bill was rejected in 2011 because it included outright admissions of negligence with benevolent gestures as statements that would be inadmissible at trial. The purpose of the bill is to allow medical professionals, such as doctors and nurses, to offer apologies and condolences to family members without fear of legal reprisals.

Although this bill is intended to protect medical professionals, it did not pass in 2011 because lawmakers felt that it took the protection too far. The purpose is to separate human gestures of sympathy, which may include apologies, from admissions of guilt or negligence.

In cases where medical negligence has caused injury, suffering or death, the families may want to seek compensation. A personal injury attorney may be able to help. If Bill 379 passes, an attorney could help determine what may have been a medical professional's admission of guilt rather than an offering of condolences.

Source: Philly.com, "Pa. 'benevolent-gesture' bill for physicians advances", Leila Haghighat, June 29, 2013

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