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Do apology laws actually work?

In a prior post, we highlighted the prospective success of safe harbor provisions, which essentially protect physicians who want to give alternative recommendations when medical procedures don’t go as planned. These provisions are envisioned as a way to improve health care; which in turn, may limit medical malpractice lawsuits.

However, there are also apology laws that encourage physicians to express regret and sympathy when patients are injured due to medical errors. Aside from giving an avenue to humanize doctors, it also appears that apology laws may help to resolve medical malpractice cases. 

According to a study produced by the American Urological Association, the mean litigation length was just over three years in states that had apology laws compared to 5.6 years in states without such laws. The goal behind these laws is to encourage apologies without the threat of litigation, as a physician’s expressions of regret or sympathy could be used in future litigation in New York.

However, patients often sue out of anger ostensibly stemming from stoic responses from doctors when procedures go awry. Indeed, it would be good to hear from doctors who are genuinely sorry for their missteps, but they should not be used as excuses for lapses in protocols that harm patients. After all, an apology does not remedy an injured patient’s conditions.

As of 2015, 38 states have now enacted such statutes. While New York is still considering such legislation, it remains to be seen whether it will be passed in the near future. In the meantime, if you have questions about advancing a medical malpractice claim, an experienced attorney can advise you. 

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