The Alaska Legislature is following the lead of states like Pennsylvania and has now passed a bill that would make expressions of apology or compassion inadmissible as evidence in medical malpractice cases. HB250, from Rep. Kurt Olson, has been labeled the “I’m sorry” bill. The new law is designed to allow doctors to say they are sorry without worrying that their apology will be construed as an admission of guilt.
However the law will not protect a physician who actually has harmed a patient from being sued.
Despite the assertion that medical malpractice suits are driven by money hungry lawyers the truth is that medical malpractice is more common than you think. Each year, thousands upon thousands of people are affected by the mistakes of hospitals, surgeons, and doctors – and the majority never file medical malpractice claims. A staggering 225,000 people die each year due to medical malpractice.
Any doctor can make a mistake and not even know it. If a doctor or surgeon recognizes the mistake while you are still in surgery, they may avoid what is considered medical malpractice. That is, mistakes are known to occur, and if the doctor appreciates the mistake and takes care of it during the operation, you may suffer harm, but it may not rise to the level of a viable medical malpractice claim. In stark contrast, the doctor that accidentally injures you and fails to appreciate it or conduct appropriate testing, leaving you with serious and life-threatening complications, may have committed a violation of medical standards and may be liable for medical malpractice.
Sometimes though if a doctor makes an honest mistake and then makes every effort to help the patient recover, an apology may be all that is needed. Research shows that these types of statements from doctors have led to fewer malpractice suits in some of the 36 other states that already have passed apology laws.