Magazine article Developments in Mental Health Law

Virginia Enacts Law That Prevents Expressions of Sympathy by Health Care Providers from Being Used in Subsequent Lawsuits; Coalition Seeks to Go Further

Magazine article Developments in Mental Health Law

Virginia Enacts Law That Prevents Expressions of Sympathy by Health Care Providers from Being Used in Subsequent Lawsuits; Coalition Seeks to Go Further

Article excerpt

Virginia joined a number of states that have enacted legislation that permits health care providers to express sympathy to a patient or a relative or representative of the patient without that expression being admissible in a civil action brought by the alleged victim of an unanticipated health care outcome.

In Virginia, a "relative" is defined to include "any person who has a family-type relationship with the patient." A "representative" is defined to include a legal guardian, attorney, person designated to make decisions on behalf of a patient under a medical power of attorney, or any person recognized in law or custom as a patient's agent. Unlike some states, however, the Virginia legislation does not protect from subsequent use in litigation a statement of fault that was included with the expression of sympathy. VA. CODE [section][section] 8.01-52.1, 8.01-581.20:1 (2005).

A national advocacy group called the "Sorry Works! Coalition" has developed a model that goes beyond such efforts. Under this approach, (1) hospitals and physicians review every adverse incident, (2) hospital administrators and physicians sit down with patients and families to explain what happened, and (3) the hospital and doctor apologize if a mistake was made, offer the patient or family fair compensation if the investigation finds that there was a medical error, and explain how any such error will be corrected in the future. …

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