The Law Offices of John Phebus

Apologies may reduce likelihood of malpractice lawsuits

In Arizona and many other states, if doctors apologize to patients or their family for a medical error, this cannot be used as evidence of liability in a subsequent medical malpractice lawsuit. In some cases, apologies may reduce the likelihood that a person will file a lawsuit. Some cases demonstrate that medical errors can be seriously compounded or deescalated based on how medical professionals behave in the wake of an event. A shift in medical culture is underway in which it is believed that acknowledgement may be a more powerful tool than denial in avoiding malpractice suits.

In one California case, a toddler died in one hospital due to an alarm that was turned off. The hospital apologized immediately, and the mother of the child is now a consultant for the hospital on the topic of medical error. In Connecticut, a woman had the wrong rib removed. She received neither an apology nor a true account of what had taken place. Later, it appeared that an outage affecting radiographic imaging may have been responsible.

The woman has filed a lawsuit, but the situation has raised concerns about safety and reporting issues around IT failure. It is believed that this may be the cause of some medical errors, but this cannot be proven because there is no mandatory reporting system in place.

Whether or not a patient receives an apology, a medical error can be devastating. For example, a patient might be given the wrong dosage of a medication and suffer a severe reaction. Even if the staff acknowledges the error and apologizes, the patient may still want to discuss the situation with an attorney. The error might drive up the patient's health care costs or the course of treatment might be compromised. Patients have a right to expect a reasonable standard of care, and if a court finds that a harmed plaintiff did not receive this, there may be an award of compensation.

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