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

Pennsylvania Senate passes law protecting physicians

Pennsylvania may become the 37th state to enact what's informally known as an "I'm sorry" law. Such a law would allow doctors to apologize to their patients without their words constituting an admission of negligence should a patient later sue the doctor for malpractice. In a unanimous block, the Pennsylvania state Senate voted to approve the bill. The House Judiciary Committee followed suit on June 28. The bill still must be voted on and passed by the full House before it can become law. That may not happen before the summer break.

Previous attempts to pass this type of a bill have never survived the Pennsylvania State Senate. Reportedly, what made the difference this time is that the bill makes clear what will be considered a benevolent gesture on the part of the doctor and what would be an admission. The bill provides that apologies made prior to the filing of a lawsuit would constitute a benevolent gesture. Apologies made after the filing would be admissible against the doctor in court.

Pennsylvania's bill makes an effort not to restrict a doctor from saying what he needs to in order to deal appropriately with his patient. This is unlike the benevolent gesture laws in 14 other states where the ability of a doctor to make an inadmissible statement is so restricted that the law might as well not exist at all. Only Colorado and a few other states will actually protect a doctor who wishes to reveal facts to the patient without increasing the doctor's own liability.

Pennsylvania's bill was designed to encourage communication between physicians and their patients. Better communication makes for more confident doctors and more comfortable patients, as well as providing a valuable bright line test for medical malpractice attorneys as well. In cases where a doctor actually was negligent, an attorney may be able to aid in seeking compensation for any damages that result.

Source: Med City News, "Pa could be 37th state to have "I'm sorry" law as bill passes Senate, moves to House", Stephanie Baum, July 01, 2013

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