Personal injury lawyers are perhaps one of the busiest in the field, as personal injury claims are one of the most common filings in the U.S. This includes several different types of torts, including worker’s compensation, auto accidents, and product liability issues. But medical malpractice has often garnered more coverage because it typically involves major surgical and treatment blunders that could effect anyone.
Recently, Alaska’s Legislature made headlines when it passed House Bill 250, a law that rejects the use of an official apology as admissible in court during medical malpractice cases. Often called the “I’m Sorry” bill, this legislature is aimed at stopping lawyers from using the admission of a mistake as evidence against a defendant. The bill also prohibits lawyers from entering remediation, or an “offer of correction” as evidence in the case. The legislation does not, however, protect doctors who admit to negligence in addition to delivering an apology.
Alaska joins other states, such as Pennsylvania, in its attempt to give doctors and hospitals some breathing room for claims filed against them.
But even with the high number of medical malpractice claims filed every year, some states are seeing a decrease in the these torts. A few days ago, the Ohio Department of Insurance reported that since the state integrated tort-reform laws more than a decade ago, the number of medical malpractice claims has dropped by thousands, particularly within the last six years with an all time low surfacing in 2012. The report also showed that the total number of payouts for these claims has fallen as well.
Similarly, at the end of April, hospitals in Connecticut saw a 5.9% reduction in money spent on medical malpractice insurance. The trend has given patients and physicians alike the impression that hospitals are doing a better job of ensuring high quality health care.
These numbers should not be considered permanent though, according to the Hartford Business Journal, as medical malpractice costs have had a long history of teetering between high and low payouts. The president at one Connecticut hospitals claims that the premiums for medical facilities and doctors still remain steep. In Florida, victims could see an even higher payout after the state’s Supreme Court voided a law that placed a cap on the maximum payout a plaintiff can receive from wrongful death as a result of medical malpractice.
“I believe that the concept is hypocritical. There are studies that show that when professionals, whether it be doctors/lawyers/accountants apologize for an error, there is a greater likelihood that the victim of the error will find that somewhat acceptable, and not bring an action. However, that’s not really an apology. A real apology has behind it personal responsibility, if you’re going to express your apology/compassion you should admit your fault. These ‘I’m sorry’ statements are not sufficient for taking responsibility, and they don’t show true regret for causing harm. Doctors that show true care to their patients and portray they care are much more likely not to get sued.” says Michael Maggiano, trial attorney at Maggiano Law.
“The statistics show, however, in fact most injured patients do not sue doctors or hospitals. A number of years ago, a Harvard medical practice study, and a Utah and Colorado based practice study estimated between 44,000-98,000 deaths per year occur from medical errors. This is the equivalent of a jumbo jet crashing and killing all passengers every single day.”
For some patients, an apology from a physician is sufficient, but in the case of severe illness, injury or death, “I’m sorry,” may not cut it. While there is no clear indication that the “I’m Sorry” bill will actually help doctors and hospitals in their plight to reduce the number of lawsuits filed against them, it does give them a chance to handle their mistake with some dignity, without being penalized for their honesty.