State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

New law will let doctors say "sorry" without legal trouble

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Oct 23, 2013 3:25 PM
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Doctors will soon have legal cover to say something to their patients they've long been advised against: "I'm sorry."

A new state law will allow medical providers to say they're sorry for a bad outcome - the kind of thing that, in the past, has left medical professionals open to liability lawsuits in Pennsylvania.

"Many lawsuits were filed out of anger just because the family and patient thought that the health care professional just didn't care. So this gives them the opportunity to say 'I'm sorry,'" said Sen. Pat Vance (R-Cumberland), who shepherded the "apology legislation" through the Senate and House. "It does not preclude a lawsuit being filed and the judge will make the determination of whether or not the evidence is used in a trial."

Vance, a former surgical pediatric nurse, cited research showing similar laws in other states have led to huge drops in medical liability and malpractice lawsuits filed.

Gov. Corbett signed the measure into law Wednesday - just over a month after publicly calling for its passage. He said it could bring down the cost of health care.

"We do this because we should not discourage human beings from sharing empathy after a tragedy," Corbett said. "We do this because it is the right thing to do for Pennsylvania families and the health care system."

The bill has been a pet project for Vance for eight years, stuck between the strong support of medical professionals and staunch opposition from trial attorneys.

Both the House and Senate passed it unanimously. It'll be effective in about two months.

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