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State legislature considers "apology laws" for med mal cases

When someone makes a mistake, the natural expectation on the wronged party is that the person who made the mistake should apologize. And in many situations, an apology from the party in error is forthcoming and can even resolve the problem. However, as any Pennsylvania medical malpractice lawyer knows, it is not that easy for a doctor who has made a mistake to just apologize. This is because in some cases, an apology could be considered an admission of negligence, potentially leading to a malpractice lawsuit.

The Pennsylvania state legislature is reviewing a bill that aims to change this. The bill, commonly referred to as an "apology law," would make any admissions of liability made by a healthcare provider to a patient inadmissible in a medical malpractice lawsuit, if that admission was made as part of an apology or "benevolent gesture of compassion." Similar laws have been enacted in 36 states.

Medical malpractice cases can arise where a medical professional, such as a doctor or nurse, deviates from the acceptable standard of practice, and that deviation results in some kind of harm or damage to a patient. Such negligence can include instances of errors in diagnosis and errors in treatment. Hospital negligence such as inadequate training of hospital staff or issues with sanitation can also give rise to a medical malpractice claim.

Currently, in Pennsylvania, doctors are allowed to tell patients that they are sorry that something bad has happened to them. Proponents of the legislation state that currently, fear of a malpractice lawsuit can chill the full disclosure of unexpected outcomes and errors to the patient. Opponents, on the other hand, criticize the broad scope of the bill and maintain that certain types of admissions should be admissible in a malpractice case.

Source: Post-Gazette.com, "For doctors, hospitals, 'sorry' is a hard word to say," Amaris Elliot-Engel, Feb. 25, 2013

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