Increasingly, state legislatures across the country are making it easier for doctors to express remorse for a bad outcome – and in some cases actually apologize for a mistake – without patients being able to use their words against them in a malpractice claim.
In some cases, this can make all the difference in how a patient and their family feel about a doctor and the medical field as a whole. If the error is reparable without more suffering, having a doctor show some basic human empathy can be enough to prevent legal action. Of course, all the apologies in the world won’t make up for serious negligence or mistakes that cause injury or worse.
State laws vary
Many states now have some type of “apology law” that details what can and can’t be used as evidence against a medical provider. Some states prevent general expressions of regret from being used against a doctor, while others even prohibit an actual apology for wrongdoing from being used.
New Jersey is among the minority of states that currently has no such law. That means anything a doctor says can be used against them. Of course, that means you’ll be less likely to hear an apology from a doctor here. The same is true if you go to New York, which also currently has no apology law.
Whether you’re getting health care in a state with an apology law or not (and whether you receive an apology or not), it’s important to listen to (and take notes of) everything those on your medical team or those treating a loved one say. This can lead to evidence like documentation, witness statements and more that can help build a malpractice case.
If there’s a case, you want to pursue it before reports disappear, witnesses forget or the doctor moves and it becomes more challenging to hold them accountable. If you believe that you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, it’s smart to seek legal guidance as soon as possible.