New Study Sheds Light on Medical Malpractice Claims and State Apology Laws

A new study released by Vanderbilt University demonstrates that, contrary to popular belief, most medical malpractice lawsuits are not filed due to anger over a surgeon failing to apologize for a mistake.

Specifically, the study looked at “apology laws” in 32 states, which allow physicians to express sympathy to patients and families without that apology being used against them as evidence in court. The state laws sought to reduce the overall number of medical malpractice lawsuits that were filed, but according to the study results, the number of malpractice lawsuits against non-surgeons actually increased during the years when these apology laws were in effect.

Laws Not Serving Intended Effect

Now the study authors actually conjecture that that apology made by the doctor may even provide inspiration to bring a medical malpractice claim against that doctor, regardless of whether or not the apology can be used in court, because the injured patient realizes that the medical mistake was in fact made and that it caused their injury.

Regardless of whether they have this effect, the study demonstrates that these laws have had no statistically significant effect on the probability that doctors have a claim filed against them.

The Law in Louisiana

As a result, in some states, these laws are being phased out and apologies can be used as evidence against a doctor. Louisiana, however, still has a law regarding confidentiality of communication from the health provider on the books. The law states that any communication by a healthcare provider expressing or conveying an apology, regret, grief, sympathy, commiseration, condolence, compassion, or a general sense of benevolence made to a patient or their relatives, agents, or representatives, shall not constitute an admission and shall not be admissible in evidence to establish liability or for any other purpose. However, a statement of fault, which is a part of or in addition to this communication, shall not be made inadmissible.

The Benefit of an Apology

Regardless of the study results, many still believe that doctors need to somehow still be encouraged to make an apology because it is important to both the medical provider and the patient. Arguably, when the professionals are better encouraged to apologize for mistakes, this arguably also encourages them to review where their errors may have occurred instead of automatically becoming defensive.

Dedicated Medical Malpractice Attorneys Serving Louisiana

Negligence by a medical professional may include errors in diagnosis, treatment, or illness management. At Harrell & Nowak, our New Orleans medical malpractice attorneys are dedicated to ensuring that victims receive the compensation they deserve. If you or a loved one has been harmed by a medical error, contact us today to find out what your options are. We provide free consultations in and around New Orleans.