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Apology laws may alert patients that something was wrong

A new study from Vanderbuilt University uncovers something interesting—although it might take a medical malpractice attorney to appreciate the real significance.

Apology laws, which exist in more than 30 states, allow a physician to apologize to a patient or the patient's family when something goes wrong without the apology being admissible in court.

The idea behind the apology laws is that people sometimes file medical malpractice suits when they are angry, and an apology from the doctor might diffuse the situation and allow the malpractice victim to cool off.

It turns out that the laws don't quite work as intended. Researchers analyzed 3,517 malpractice claims and used date from an insurer that included 90 percent of all U.S. physicians practicing in a single specialty from 2004 to 2011, 75 percent of which were surgeons.

There's no statistically significant effect of apology laws where surgeons are concerned. Those who apologized were just as likely to be sued as if they hadn't. When it came to non-surgeons, however, an apology was more likely to result in a lawsuit.

Researchers reasoned that the immediate aftermath of a surgery that goes wrong is generally obvious to patients and their families, while mistakes made by physicians are not—so the apology alerts the family or malpractice victim that an error was made when they might not have otherwise realized it.

From a malpractice attorney's point of view this study also suggests two other important things:

1. Without apology laws in place, doctors might very well say nothing and hope their injured patients don't realize the mistake that was made. Since lawsuits against non-surgeons increased due to apology laws, that must have happened regularly before.

2. Plaintiffs aren't suing because they're miffed about not getting an apology. That might not help the situation, but plaintiffs aren't the emotional children the laws make them out to be.

Instead, they're victims who go through real suffering as the result of medical errors. Those victims need compensation to recover from their injuries and have a right to be compensated for pain and suffering as well.

Apologizing makes a doctor or surgeon a better person, but it doesn't relieve them of the responsibility for damage they did through negligence.

If you've been injured by a doctor's negligence mistakes, consider speaking to a medical malpractice lawyer today.

Source: Becker's Hospital Review, "Apology laws don't help physicians avoid malpractice suits, study finds," Ayla Ellison, Feb. 02, 2017

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