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Pennsylvania’s “Benevolent Gesture” Legislation Meets Opposition in Senate

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One year after obtaining approval in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Senate Bill 379, otherwise known as Pennsylvania’s “Benevolent Gesture” law, has been tabled by the Senate, subject to being called to a vote. 

Released from the House of Representatives in March 2011, the Bill deemed any admission of fault, or other “benevolent gesture” by a healthcare provider, made prior to the filing of a medical professional liability action, to be inadmissible as evidence of liability in a subsequent professional liability lawsuit. 

Upon its introduction in the Senate, the Bill came under multiple criticisms which kept it in the Senate until the end of the 2012 legislative session.  First, in addition to its focus on healthcare providers’ “benevolent gestures,” the Bill sought to address certain apportionments of health insurance to children ineligible for medical assistance.  By addressing this “second issue,” opponents argued that the Bill violated a state constitutional mandate requiring legislation to have no more than one subject per bill.  The Bill also drew criticism for its public policy implications, as its provisions barring the admissibility of “pre-suit” statements of fault had the effect of preventing not only the admission of pertinent statements regarding a patient’s discomfort, pain, injury, or death, but also statements in which a clear degree of fault or egregious violation could be implicated.  In this regard, opponents of the Bill cited an example of a physician who apologized to a patient for missing a call to the hospital “because he or she was out golfing.” 

Notwithstanding these criticisms, the Bill has been hailed as one encouraging benevolent gestures by healthcare providers, and in turn, It has also been argued that the Bill supports and furthers the standards of professional conduct applicable to healthcare providers, as medical ethics codes generally require a provider to disclose all facts which are necessary for a patient’s full understanding of what has occurred with regard to their condition and treatment.  With a benevolent gesture law in place, proponents claim that providers would be able to make such disclosures without fear of these statements being used against them in subsequent litigation. 

While legislators expect a hearing on Senate Bill 357 sometime this spring, no specific timetable has been set. 

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