“I’m sorry” does not necessarily mean “it’s my fault” or “I’m guilty.”
“Saying ‘I’m sorry’ is most often a way to express compassion or sympathy to another individual,” says Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick Cranston). “Unfortunately, in a world where almost anything can lead to litigation, showing sympathy can be seen as an admission of error, especially in a health care setting.”
Saying that the potential threat of legal action should not prevent a doctor or other medical professional from showing compassion and basic human kindness to a patient or member of a patient’s family, McNamara has again introduced legislation to make statements, writings or benevolent gestures of a health care provider inadmissible as evidence of an admission of liability in a civil action.
The legislation, 2012-H 7172, would declare inadmissible as evidence in a civil action against a health care providers any expression of sympathy, condolence, compassion or a general sense of benevolence (including the word “sorry”) “relating to the pain, suffering or death of (a) patient in connection with or relating to the patient’s condition or the outcome of such patient’s medical care and treatment.”
The legislation has been referred to the House Committee on Judiciary and is co-sponsored by Rep. David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick).
“Health care providers need to be highly qualified, professional and responsible, but I think we also want them to be caring and human, and if they wish to convey a benevolent gesture to a patient or a patient’s family, they should be able to do so without fear of having it become part of a civil suit,” said McNamara.
The legislation would cover both statements and writings of a health care provider to a patient or to the patient’s family or representative.
“The health care professionals that I know are caring people and want to be considerate of and forthcoming with their patient and the family,” said McNamara. “But they often have to prevent themselves from showing compassion because of the potential for legal action against them. That should not have to happen.”