How do Apology Laws Affect Medical Malpractice Lawsuits?

You may have heard the term “apology laws”, but chances are you don’t really know what they are or how they could affect you if you become the victim of medical malpractice.  In this article, we address the question “How do apology laws affect medical malpractice lawsuits?” We will take a closer look at what these laws are, why they were implemented, and what they mean for medical malpractice cases.

What are Apology Laws?

When a healthcare provider makes a mistake or something goes wrong, he or she may wish to apologize to the patient and his or her family.  For many years, such apologies could be used as evidence in court to prove wrongdoing or liability.  In short, apology laws allow healthcare providers to express condolences or sympathy without their apology being held against them later.

The idea that an apology could smooth over emotions and prevent possible lawsuits spurred lawmakers to create the apology laws.  So far, 32 states have passed apology laws with the intent of reducing the number of medical malpractice lawsuits being filed.

Why Were Apology Laws Implemented?

Medical malpractice lawsuits are complex and expensive for the parties involved.  Lawmakers believed that most medical malpractice lawsuits were filed in anger or in the heat of the moment.  They posited that if apologies were made and sympathy expressed, those affected would be less angry, and thus, less likely to file a lawsuit.

For years, healthcare providers have been urged to refrain from making verbal apologies to patients and families in case the family decides to file a lawsuit.  Second to reducing the number of medical malpractice lawsuits, apology laws sought to restore a healthcare provider’s ability to express sympathy and compassion for patients and their families.

Are Apologies Enough in Medical Malpractice Cases?

The short answer to this question is “no”.  Of course, an apology can help patients and their loved ones connect with healthcare providers on a human level, and it may even stifle anger.  Unfortunately, an apology is often shallow recourse for the harm caused by medical malpractice or negligence.

A recent study from Vanderbilt University reinforces this idea, as it was discovered that states implementing apology laws actually have seen an increase in the number of lawsuits filed against non-surgeon healthcare providers.  The study found that in many cases, an apology can signal the patient and his or her family that a healthcare provider made a mistake, thus prompting them to take action.  Under apology laws, the family may not be able to use the apology itself in court, but they can investigate the situation and look for other clues that malpractice or negligence contributed to the injury.

Medical malpractice lawsuits involve a great deal of investigation, research, and skill.  If you are contemplating filing a lawsuit, contact Brown Wharton & Brothers to consult with one of our experienced medical malpractice attorneys.  We can help you find answers and protect your legal rights.

Keeping Track of Apologies – Or Not

One of the biggest problems with research about apology laws is the fact that there is no real way of tracking how many healthcare providers have apologized, or how many patients were apologized to.  The Vanderbilt study reviewed more than 3,500 medical malpractice claims and found highly inconsistent results.  These inconsistencies raise the question of whether apology laws are effective, or if they can even be measured for efficacy.

The Human Element of Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

While there are certainly issues with apology laws, supporters believe that they allow healthcare providers the freedom to be “decent human beings”.  When humans make mistakes, their emotional response is to apologize.  Supporters of apology laws hope that healthcare providers will have the increasing ability to express concern and sympathy for poor outcomes or complications without their words being considered an admission of guilt.

As patients, we all hope that our healthcare providers remember just how human we are.  We feel, care, and get emotional – especially when it comes to the health and wellbeing of our families.  We also hope that healthcare providers will take accountability when they do make a mistake or are negligent.  Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

What’s more, even when a healthcare provider does admit liability or apologize, that alone will not take away the pain caused by an adverse medical event.  That is the primary reason why patients and their families file medical malpractice lawsuits.  They are looking for answers, accountability, and financial support for an injury caused by someone else’s actions.

Medical Malpractice and Your Rights

Healthcare providers are required to meet certain legal, ethical, and medical standards.  That includes providers, such as:

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Surgeons
  • Clinics and clinical staff
  • Hospitals
  • Pharmacists
  • Anesthesiologists
  • Phlebotomists
  • Nursing homes
  • Specialists – Obstetrics/gynecology, chiropractors, dentists, etc.

When healthcare providers fail to meet standards of care, the result can be a wide range of physical or emotional trauma.  As a patient, you have the right to defend your rights and health.  The good news is that you don’t have to go through this process alone.

Get the Help you Need Today

At Brown Wharton & Brothers, we can help you explore your situation and determine the best options for a successful outcome.  Our competent attorneys can help you navigate all aspects of a medical malpractice lawsuit, including:

  • Statutes of limitations
  • Hiring and interviewing experts
  • Understanding damage caps
  • Arbitration options
  • Liability requirements
  • Communicating with insurance companies

We offer every client a case review at no cost so you can focus on the health and wellbeing of you and your family first and foremost.  Fill out our online form and our office will contact you to set up your consultation with one of our attorneys.

 

Sources:

http://www.ncsl.org/research/financial-services-and-commerce/medical-professional-apologies-statutes.aspx#Statutes-Gen

Do Apology Laws Reduce Medical Malpractice Lawsuits?