A Nevada Senate committee voted Wednesday for a bill that would prevent doctors' apologies to their patients or patients' families from being admitted as court evidence if they're sued for negligence later on.
The "I'm Sorry" measure, SB174, provides that any doctor's expression of "apology, regret, sympathy, commiseration, condolence or compassion" about a patient's suffering or death can't be used in court. Lawmakers voted to take out the word "fault" from that list.
In a 4-3 vote along party lines, the Senate Judiciary Committee allowed the bill to move forward, with all four Republicans supporting the proposal and Democrats voting "no."
At a March. 23 hearing, supporters told lawmakers that attorneys and medical educators often tell doctors not to apologize because of concern about lawsuits. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Joseph Heck, R-Henderson, said an apology could be seen as an admission of negligence in court.
Larry Matheis, executive director of the Nevada State Medical Association, had supported the bill, saying it would allow medical schools to stress communication skills.
Opponents included Reno attorney Bill Bradley of the Nevada Trial Lawyers Association, who had said the bill would only lead to retracted apologies and patients with hurt feelings.
After the Wednesday vote, Sen. Valerie Wiener, D-Las Vegas, said she was concerned that the law might protect a doctor who was willfully and knowingly negligent.
Sen. Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, said that doctors' apologies shouldn't be treated any differently than other person's.
"It's no different than someone who crashes into you in a car," said Care. "It's like that for everybody else. I don't see why it should be different for doctors."
In other action, the committee voted 5-2 for SB438, which would let counties contract with private companies to run jails.
Wiener and Sen. Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, opposed the bill. Horsford said the "skeleton" bill, written so that lawmakers could fill in details later, was a bad idea, vaguely written.
"It gives very broad latitude to privatizing prisons at the local level," said Horsford. "I can't support something I don't have specifics on."
The committee also voted unanimously to pass SB237, a proposal to validate concealed weapon permits from other states, as long as those states subscribe to a 24-hour database that allows law enforcement to check the names of permit-holders.