September 30, 2014
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Saying I'm Sorry
McNamara bill would allow doctors to say 'I'm sorry' without legal repercussions

A compassionate, considerate person should not have to worry if there are any legal ramifications to saying "I'm sorry," even if that person is a doctor or other caregiver.

"Unfortunately, in a world where almost anything can lead to litigation, showing sympathy can too easily be seen as an admission of error or even guilt, especially in a health care setting," said Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston). "The threat of legal action should not prevent a doctor or other medical professional from expressing sympathy to or commiserating with a patient or a member of a patient's family."

McNamara again this year has sponsored legislation that will make statements, writings or benevolent gestures of a health care provider to a patient or the family of a patient inadmissible as evidence of an admission of liability in a civil action. He said the bill, which has been honed into its present form after many hours of discussions with various individuals and organizations with an interest in the issue, is intended to allow health care providers to show compassion without fear of legal reprisals.

The McNamara bill, 2013-H 5380, would declare inadmissible in any claim or civil action involving a health care provider "statements, writings, gestures or affirmations by a health care provider or an employee of a health care provider that express apology, sympathy, compassion, condolence or benevolence relating to the pain, suffering or death of a patient … to the patient, the patient's family or a friend of the patient or the patient's family."

"Health care professionals need to be responsible, but I think we also want them to be caring, and if they wish to convey a benevolent gesture or comment to a patient or patient's family, they should be able to do so without fear of having it become part of a legal action," said McNamara. "Saying 'I'm sorry' doesn't mean 'I did something wrong' or 'It's my fault.' Health care professionals shouldn't be afraid to show they care about their patients."

The legislation has been referred to the House Committee on Judiciary. Co-sponsors include Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick), Rep. Eileen S. Naughton (D-Dist. 21, Warwick), Rep. James N. McLaughlin (D-Dist. 57, Cumberland, Central Falls) and Rep. David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston).


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