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Professor Barry Furrow Discusses Benevolent Gesture Law on WHYY

Professor Barry Furrow

October 25, 2013

A law signed Wednesday by Gov. Tom Corbett that protects medical professionals in court if they’ve apologized to patients for harms done “seems like a good idea, generally,” Professor Barry Furrow said on WHYY’s Newsworks on Oct. 24.

Many states have adopted laws allowing doctors to make “benevolent gestures” without fearing that their words will be used against them in malpractice cases.

Furrow said the initiative started with the Veteran’s Administration, which began offering apologies or expressing contrition to injured patients, in the hope it would curb lawsuits.

“If patients aren’t confronted honestly, the anger can continue to stew and you end up wanting to take a pound of flesh out of the provider’s bank account,” Furrow said. “Clearly this bill passed because risk managers, hospitals and, I suppose, the defense bar thought that this would be a way to manage their exposure to lawsuit costs.”

Furrow added, however, that discouraging patients from suing for malpractice is “not always a good thing,” especially for those who face financial burdens as a result of their injuries.