Apologies from doctors and other health care providers won’t make up for a serious and harmful mistake. However, research has shown that they can make patients and families feel a little better – and in some cases decide not to take legal action.
That’s why many states have enacted what are often called “apology laws.” They prevent expressions of regret and in some cases outright apologies from being used as evidence of malpractice. Of course, there’s often plenty of other evidence, and an apology can help malpractice victims in their efforts to collect that evidence.
New Jersey has no apology law
Currently, a dozen states, including New Jersey as well as New York, have no apology law. That frees up those with a malpractice claim to use a doctor’s apology, if they make one, as evidence. Of course, that also means a doctor will be less likely to apologize for a specific error or act of negligence.
It’s also hard to use a simple expression of sympathy or regret like, “I’m sorry that this turned out so badly” against them. If the doctor says something like, “I’m sorry I didn’t make the correct diagnosis sooner” or worse, “I wish I hadn’t neglected to look at all of the lab result,” that’s another matter.
It’s always wise for patients and family members to listen carefully to everything a doctor and other medical providers tell you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or tell them to slow down so you can take notes.
If you’re dealing with a serious medical condition, it can always help to bring a family member or friend along, even to doctors’ appointments, to help make sure that all of your concerns are addressed (and that you have a witness). If you believe you have cause to file a malpractice claim, it’s wise to get legal guidance as soon as possible.