A medical malpractice attorney blamed insurers for a lack of compassion during a hearing Friday on a bill to let doctors apologize to patients for an adverse medical result without having the apology used against them in court later on.
The Nevada Trial Lawyers Association and the Nevada State Medical Association are at odds over SB174, called the "I'm sorry" law, but their criticisms of the current system both revolved around insurers' prohibitions against apologies by doctors.
SB174, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Heck, R-Henderson, would make statements of apology, regret, or condolence inadmissible in a court case against a doctor. Heck, an emergency room doctor, said similar laws in other states greatly reduced malpractice cases. Hospitals which encouraged apologies saw lawsuits and settlements costs reduced, in some cases by up to 50 percent.
Heck said the immunity granted by the bill would reassure insurance companies they can rid their contracts of prohibitions against apologies.
Both groups said apologies could help doctors show compassion toward patients when they need it most and would enable the doctor to help make the person "whole" again.
Dr. Keith Brill told the Assembly Judiciary Committee that when doctors don't apologize, patients are more likely to get angry and sue.
Bill Bradley, a medical malpractice attorney who spoke for trial lawyers, said insurers and doctors ought to be honest anyway when a patient clearly was wronged and needs compensation. He opposed the bill on grounds it would eliminate evidence of negligence, the doctor's own admission.
"There ought to be accountability. If that physician is willing to say, 'I'm accountable, I did this wrong,' then that physician and insurance company ought to be able to say, 'We don't need lawyers involved in this and let's get this person whole again.' I just don't see that happening," Bradley said.
Some lawmakers on the panel were skeptical about how doctors could express an apology without then lying on the stand about their own negligence.
Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, pushed several times on the issue, asking what a doctor would say if, after giving an apology, he was asked on the stand if he was negligent.
Dr. John Martin, president of the Clark County OB/GYN Society, said an effective trial lawyer would be able to provide ample evidence if negligence did occur.
"If you said 'no' to taking out the wrong kidney, you'd be an idiot. A good plaintiff's attorney should be able to prove you did it, whether you admit it or not," Martin said.
No insurance industry representatives spoke at Friday's hearing. Contacted after the meeting, Jim Wadhams, a lobbyist who represents several insurers, said insurance companies are not showing a lot of concern about the bill and consider it a matter of policy for the state.