Many Who File Medical Malpractice Suits Just Want an Apology

On behalf of Brown & Crouppen, P.C. posted in Medical Malpractice on Tuesday, March 6, 2012

In many cases where a patient suffers permanent injury or death as a result of medical malpractice, the negligent care creates financial damages for which the patient or the next of kin seek compensation. But sometimes, those filing a medical malpractice suit against a physician, clinic or hospital simply want to know what happened the day of the injury, and an apology from those responsible. Studies have shown that malpractice claims go down when doctors apologize for their medical errors.

Despite this, medical professionals in St. Louis and elsewhere are frequently reluctant to apologize to patients and their families because they are afraid their apologies could wind up as evidence in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Indeed, finding the balance between encouraging apologies while avoiding immunizing doctors and nurses from liability for poor care can be difficult to find.

A bill up for debate in the Rhode Island Legislature this year is a good example of the controversy behind malpractice apologies. The bill would make an apology offered by a doctor inadmissible in a malpractice suit. Among others, it has the support of actor James Woods, whose brother died in 2006 after emergency room personnel allegedly failed to do enough to save him during a heart attack.

Woods sued the hospital, but settled the suit after the hospital offered an apology and agreed to start a foundation named for his brother to improve patient care and reduce errors. Woods and the doctor who treated his brother say they have even become friends.

However, critics say the bill provides too much protection to medical professionals and insurance companies. The prohibition against using apologies in court could be abused, unfairly preventing claims from getting their day in court, according to some medical malpractice attorneys.

Source: CBS News, “Actor Woods supports medical apology bill in RI,” March 1, 2012

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