Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.
Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Corbett has announced that he will sign the “benevolent gesture” bill after the legislation received unanimous support from lawmakers. The law permits health care providers, including hospitals, long-term care facilities and physicians, to offer a “benevolent gesture” (i.e., an apology) to patients, their family members or representatives without worrying that the gesture might be used against them in future litigation. The bill is widely touted as a method to encourage open communication between patients and physicians, as well as a way to reduce the number of medical malpractice actions.
The law defines “benevolent gesture” as “any action, conduct, statement or gesture that conveys a sense of apology, condolence, explanation, compassion or commiseration emanating from humane impulses.” Under the law, plaintiffs are prohibited from admitting evidence of such gestures in litigation against their health care providers. Pennsylvania Senator Patricia Vance, the bill’s sponsor, noted that studies have shown that a large percentage of medical malpractice actions would not have been filed if the patient or the patient’s family had merely received an explanation and/or apology.
By enacting this legislation, Pennsylvania will be joining at least 36 other states with similar “I’m sorry” laws. The types of expressions covered and their level of protection vary by state, however, and health care providers should contact their legal counsel to ensure that they understand which statements, if any, are protected.