Pa. 'benevolent-gesture' bill for physicians advances

Posted: June 30, 2013

On the physician's checklist, somewhere between describing how difficult an operation was and which steps a family might want to take next, expressions of empathy may now become more prevalent.

Again making its way through the Pennsylvania legislature is a bill - "benevolent-gesture" legislation - that would prohibit empathetic statements such as apologies and condolences from being used against medical personnel in court.

The measure, which passed unanimously in the state Senate Tuesday and the House Judiciary Committee Friday, has advanced farther than previous efforts.

Senate Bill 379 awaits a vote on the House floor, but it will vie for lawmakers' attention before the summer recess, up against other pressing issues such as liquor privatization and pension reform.

Similar laws have been enacted in 36 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Guam, but not in New Jersey.

Greatest support for the measure comes from health-care providers and operators of assisted-living residences, for whom medical-malpractice lawsuits are ever the fear. Such suits were common until passage of the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act in 2002. Since then, filings have dropped by about 45 percent, according to the state judicial system's website; last year, 1,508 medical-malpractice cases were filed.

"There's a tendency for physicians to hold back," said Richard Schott, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society. "So this bill adds a very appropriate human dimension to the moral and ethical obligations that physicians have to families."

A 2011 version of the bill was rejected by the Senate because it lumped outright admission of negligence with benevolent gestures as statements inadmissible at trial.

Clifford Rieders, a medical-malpractice attorney, called the new bill a codification of current practice in the courts. "From a strictly legal view, there is no point," he said.

In 2009, Sen. Pat Vance (D., Cumberland/York), a nurse, was first to introduce benevolent-gesture legislation. "I'm thrilled," she said of the bill's Senate approval this week.

Rep. Keith Gillespie (R., York) has proposed benevolent-gesture legislation in the House twice before.

"The problem has always been with the Senate," he said, "so I'm optimistic this time around."

Contact Leila Haghighat at 215-854-4869 or

comments powered by Disqus