It used to be a very rare thing for a patient or their family to hear an apology from a doctor – even when they had clearly made a mistake or been negligent. They’d been taught to fear – and rightfully so – that an apology could be used against them in a malpractice suit. Even a generic expression of sympathy for a patient’s pain could potentially be construed as an admission of guilt.
Thankfully for people who want to think that their doctor is a kind and decent person, that is starting to change. That’s because studies have actually found that when doctors apologize when things don’t go as planned – even if they don’t directly take responsibility for a mistake – patients are less likely to take legal action. The one area where that doesn’t seem to be the case is with surgical errors – perhaps because they often cause considerable harm.
What are “apology laws?”
This change has been brought about by changes in the law across many states – including Louisiana. These “apology laws” limit when a doctor’s apology can be used as evidence against them in a malpractice suit.
Some of these laws offer more protection to doctors than others. Louisiana is among the states where no part of an apology can be used against a doctor or other medical provider. In some states, patients can use a doctor’s admission of fault against them but not a non-specific expression of sympathy.
Doctors can still be held liable
This law doesn’t mean that because a doctor apologizes for a mistake, they can’t be held responsible. It also doesn’t mean that doctors are apologizing to patients every time they make a mistake or were negligent in some way because there are no consequences.
That’s because if they offer a direct apology for making a mistake, that can likely lead the way to finding independent evidence of it that can be used in a malpractice claim. That’s why it’s important to listen carefully to what they say when they talk about something that went wrong.
If a doctor’s mistake or negligence caused you harm, regardless of whether they apologized or not, it’s important to find out if you have grounds for a medical malpractice claim. It’s wise to seek legal guidance as soon as possible.