McNamara bill enables health care providers to express sympathy without fear of civil action
Rep. Joseph McNamara has again filed legislation to allow medical professionals to express sympathy to patients and their families without risk of legal reprisal.
The legislation (2014-H 7072) would declare “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” inadmissible in any claim or civil action involving that health care provider or employee.
The legislation is aimed at ensuring that health care professionals aren’t forced to remain silent at times when they appropriately would like to express feelings of care, concern and sympathy toward people, patients and their families.
“People don’t enter the health care profession unless they have strong feelings of compassion and a commitment to helping other people. In fact, we all want health care providers that care about us,” said McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston). “Unfortunately, there’s always the potential that someone will take ‘I’m sorry,’ not as an expression of sympathy but as an admission of wrongdoing, so doctors, nurses and other medical staff are at risk for litigation right now when they express sympathy and shared sadness with their patients and their families. That needs to be changed. They share intimate, often painful, human experiences with patients and families, and it’s only appropriate for them to be able to offer their sympathy as caring fellow human beings.”
By making such statements inadmissible, the legislation would enable health care providers to express their heartfelt emotions without fear that they or their employers would face a lawsuit as a result.
The legislation was introduced Jan. 14 and has been referred to the House Committee on Judiciary. Co-sponsors include Rep. Eileen S. Naughton (D-Dist. 21, Warwick), Rep. James N. McLaughlin (D-Dist. 57, Cumberland, Central Falls), Rep. David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston) and Rep. Raymond A. Hull (D-Dist. 6, Providence, North Providence).