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Sympathy Shouldn’t Be Litigated

November 01, 2013
10:26 am

The Pennsylvania state legislature has passed a medical liability measure that doesn’t make malpractice lawsuits more or less difficult or affect the level of damages a plaintiff may receive, but it does take a meaningful step forward in support of compassion and basic humanity.

Pennsylvania lawmakers adopted what they call “benevolent gesture” legislation.  Essentially, it corrects one of the deplorable side effects of today’s medical liability environment.  The bill allows doctors to communicate to patients’ loved ones as human beings.

The fact is, even if a physician does everything right and according to evidence-based protocols, unfortunate outcomes happen.  But, in today’s environment, doctors are unable to express sympathy or concern to patients’ families for fear that those words can be used against them in a courtroom.  Simply saying ‘I’m sorry’ for a family’s loss can be misinterpreted as an admission of malpractice.

Thus, patients’ loved ones find themselves angry at doctors who they view as uncaring, simply because of this invisible wall between them that is created by possible litigation.

The Pennsylvania law simply states that healthcare providers can express words of condolence, compassion or commiseration without those sympathetic thoughts being considered admissible evidence in any future legal actions.  Without constraining in any way the right to sue, this legislation at least allows physicians and patients’ loved ones to act like people instead of potential courtroom combatants.

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