I’m Sorry – List of Jurisdictions with Medical Apology Laws Grows by One

I’m sorry – it’s a powerful sentence considering how short it is, and it’s something that has defused innumerable controversies over the years.  Simply stating that you are sorry that something bad happened to someone else can have a tangible impact on what happens next, and that seems to apply to medical malpractice situations where patients are badly injured or even killed.  In recent years, studies have emerged that stated that when medical professionals simply uttered that short sentence when something went wrong that the number of medical malpractice claims went down.  As a result, several different jurisdictions have been taking action.

Recently, Pennsylvania enacted what is commonly known as an “I’m Sorry” law that relates to negative medical events.  Basically, the law states that medical professionals can express regret to patients and their families for this result without having to fear that statement becoming evidence if they are ultimately sued for negligence.  Pennsylvania has now become the 37th jurisdiction in the United States to enact such a law, although there are some limits as to what can be said and what can be admissible in court.

Some of these laws only allow for a general expression of regret and sympathy.  If a medical professional admits to wrongdoing and takes legal responsibility for the negative result, that portion of a statement could be admissible.  However, many people believe that these laws do have an effect on the reactions of patients and their families.  A study by Johns Hopkins University that was released earlier this fall concluded that doctors in training lacked common courtesy with regards to dealing with patients.

Observers measured whether the interns did the following when treating patients:

  • Introducing oneself
  • Explaining his or her role in the patient’s care
  • Touching the patient
  • Asking open-ended questions and giving that patient the chance to respond
  • Sitting down with the patient

The research found that the lack of regularity with which these steps are taken could have negative impacts on both the medical outcomes for the patients and their overall level of satisfaction with their treatment and recovery.  A link to a press release describing the study can be found here.  A link to a paid pathway to download the full study can be found here.

This all represents the thinking behind these laws.  To date, New York has not enacted such a law although bills have been presented in the legislature.  It seems somewhat likely that eventually, every jurisdiction in the country will have some sort of law like this in place considering the momentum that this school of thought is gathering.

While this seems like a good thing, apologies are not going to help pay for the exorbitant costs that can be incurred by a patient who is severely or permanently injured.  That’s why the laws that do exist do not prevent patients from filing lawsuits but rather do not admit the apology into evidence.  That seems fair.  Anyone who has been harmed in this manner needs to contact the New York medical malpractice lawyers at The Fitzgerald Law Firm to schedule a free initial consultation.