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When The Doctor Says I’m Sorry

Every day we put our health and well-being into the hands of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. Surgery or other medical treatment can be a stressful experience, and we want our medical professionals to have the experience, training, and bedside manner to put us at ease. However, when things go wrong, doctors almost never say they are sorry for making a mistake.

Medical malpractice is a serious problem that results in death or injury for thousands of people every year. It is also a very contentious issue. Insurance companies and healthcare providers are pushing back against jury awards, while advocates for the patients are resisting mandatory caps on injuries. This adversarial relationship makes doctors unwilling to apologize for their mistakes. However, an apology may be just the thing to simplify medical malpractice negotiations for both sides.

An article from CNN Health recently addressed the issue in an article titled, “When a surgeon should just say ‘I’m sorry.” In a high-profile case of a doctor who removed the wrong rib during surgery in Connecticut, the patient is suing the doctor and hospital for medical malpractice and an alleged cover-up. However, according to the patient’s attorney, she is suing because the doctor never apologized for the serious error. “No one apologized, and they never explained to her how the mistake was made,” said the attorney.

Many doctors and surgeons may be reluctant to express any apology, fearing a medical malpractice lawsuit. However, 36 states, including the District of Columbia have statutory provisions, known as “I’m sorry” laws. These laws allow doctors to apologize or offer condolences without the fear that these statements will be used against them in a medical malpractice lawsuit as an admission of guilt.

As an example, Maryland’s Courts & Judicial Proceedings Code Ann. §10-920 provides that, “an expression of regret or apology made by or on behalf of the health care provider, including an expression of regret or apology made in writing, orally, or by conduct, is inadmissible as evidence of an admission of liability or as evidence of an admission against interest.”

Advocates of this approach say that an apology can go a long way towards settling medical malpractice lawsuits. Sorry Works! is a group that advocates for acknowledging mistakes and apologizing to patients and their families. Doug Wojcieszak, the founder of Sorry Works!, started the group after losing his brother to a medical error.

Leilani Schweitzer experienced the rare hospital apology approach after the death of her young son due to a medical mistake. Immediately afterward, the hospital made a full apology, explained how the error occurred, and offered a financial settlement. As a result, Schweitzer never decided to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. She now works as a consultant for a hospital program that works with patients to resolve cases of alleged medical malpractice.

According to Schweitzer’s recent TEDx talk, “One hundred thousand people will die in the U.S. this year because of preventable mistakes. This means this year, there will be 100,000 opportunities to learn. A hundred thousand lives we should honor. A hundred thousand opportunities to choose truth and compassion over deny and defend.”

If you or a loved one has been injured as the result of a medical error, the Gilman & Bedigian team is fully equipped to handle the complex process of bringing a malpractice claim. Our staff, including a physician and attorneys with decades of malpractice litigation experience, will focus on getting you compensation, so you can focus on healing and moving forward.

About the Author

Charles GilmanCharles Gilman
Charles Gilman

As managing partner and co-founder of Gilman & Bedigian, it is my mission to help our clients recover and get their lives back on track. I strongly believe that every person who is injured by a wrongful act deserves compensation, and I will do my utmost to bring recompense to those who need and deserve it.


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