Wisconsin medical professionals will be able to convey condolences and apologies to patients and their families when things go wrong, without having to worry about those statements being used in malpractice actions, under terms of a bill now ready for Governor Scott Walker’s signature.
The bill’s author, Senator Lea Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) is also a registered nurse. She said the bill addresses a “wall of silence” between healthcare professionals and patients. “Right now, if you talk to most medical students, they’ll tell you they’re told to zip up their lip when something bad happens,” Vukmir said. “That healthcare provider, that doctor, that nurse, they’re feeling it, too. Do you think they don’t feel that failure?”
The bill prohibits statements of condolences or apology from doctors or other healthcare providers from being admissible in lawsuits. Senators Fred Risser (D-Madison) and Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend), both attorneys, were among those opposed to the bill.
“Any statement, gesture or conduct by a healthcare professional that satisfies the requirements is not admissible into evidence,” noted Risser. “It’s really hard to justify, and it’s not like we have a big problem in med mal cases here,” said Grothman. “You’re going to the point where you’re almost saying it should be almost impossible to ever win a med mal case.”
This sort of so-called “I’m sorry” legislation has been proposed the last several sessions. A version even passed the legislature in 2005, but vetoed by then-Governor Jim Doyle.
The bill, which previously passed the Assembly, was approved by the Senate on a 19-14 vote on the last regular day of the legislative session.
In other action on Tuesday, the Senate approved a bill which requires Wisconsin police departments to bring in outside agencies to investigate the deaths of persons in custody, The measure was drafted in response to the deaths of several men in recent years, including the 2012 shooting death of Paul Heenan by an officer in Madison, and the 2011 death of Derek Williams in a Milwaukee squad car. No officers were charged in either man’s death.