Bill protects a doctor's apology

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Associated Press Writer

For health care providers, North Dakota may mean being able to say you’re sorry without fear of having the apology used in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

“The way it is now, even if a doctor wanted to talk to a patient to express sympathy, they can’t do it because of fear that it will be used against them in court,” said Rep. Lawrence Klemin, R-Bismarck.

The North Dakota House voted 74-17 on Monday to approve legislation that says a health care provider’s “expressions of empathy” may not be used against him or her in a malpractice lawsuit, arbitration proceeding or license hearing. The bill now moves to the state Senate.

It covers doctors, nurses, therapists and anyone else licensed or certified by the state to provide health care. Twenty-nine states, including South Dakota and Montana, have similar laws in place, according to the Sorry Works! Coalition, an organization that promotes the idea.

As introduced, the bill also shielded a medical provider’s admission of fault if something unexpected happened to the patient being treated. Legislators who initially reviewed the bill agreed the reference should be removed.

“If a doctor says, ‘Gee, I’m sorry, your loved one just passed away,’ or, ‘I’m sorry, things didn’t turn out the way we all had hoped,’ that’s an expression of sympathy,” said Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo. “If your doctor says, ‘Gee, it was my fault,’ maybe that is something else.”

Rep. Chris Griffin, D-Larimore, said he believed the purpose of the bill’s promoters was to protect a medical provider’s statement of fault. Without that provision, Griffin said, the bill is meaningless.

“I don’t foresee this bill, if it passes, to really change anything,” Griffin said. “We are not putting much faith in the jurors and the courts of our state, if we don’t think that a doctor, or a health care professional, showing some sympathy is actually going to end up in a medical malpractice suit.”
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