I learned for the first time today that there are laws in many states prohibiting the use of a doctor's apology as an admission in a malpractice claim against the doctor. (AP, R.I. 4/12/07) According to the report, at least 28 states already have the legislation and 8 other states are considering adopting it. Furthermore, the article reveals that insurers warn doctors against the dangers of apologizing or using words such as "error", "mistake", "fault", or "negligence" in talking to their patients.
Is this what our legal system has wrought? Have we so intimidated the medical profession that its members fear admitting their mistakes and offering to correct them; that we need legislation to protect them against the consequences of apologizing? Concededly, doctors are faced with baseless malpractice claims, exorbitant insurance premiums, the expenditure of time and emotion in defending suits and the possibility that their mere threat causes them to practice and prescribe in a manner that they would not do otherwise.
But likewise, there are legitimate malpractice claims. Do we want our medical profession to be more concerned with potential liability than being candid and caring for the health and well-being of their patients. And if morality and principle do not suffice, practically, who is more likely to be sued, the doctor who admits his mistake to the patient and offers to correct it or the doctor who conceals and avoids confessing the error.
I had a doctor for years who had a sign in his waiting room: I HAVE NO INSURANCE. IF YOU PLAN TO SUE ME, PLEASE GO ELSEWHERE. If he made a mistake, I know he would tell me, because he was more concerned with my health than his liability. If we in the legal profession have reversed that then I hope none of us ever gets sick.