I was alerted about a new study that basically says docs in states with apology laws experience fewer med-mal lawsuits.
At Sorry Works!, we’ve always walked a bit of a tight rope with apology laws. We’re happy to see them passed, but they are not necessary to launch a disclosure program (see disclosure program at University of Michigan Hospital System in a state with no apology law), and we don’t want the non-existence of an apology law to be an excuse not to do disclosure. “Gee, disclosure is such a great idea, and when the legislature makes it safe for us docs to apologize, we’ll do it.” Wrong! It’s always been “safe” to empathize and, when necessary, apologize - the lawyers and risk & claims managers have had it wrong all these years! Also, as we’ve often said, disclosure at the minimum is about building great evidence for a strong defense in a med-mal case.
So, what gives with this study? Could be several things. First, the act of introducing and passing an apology creates a lot of media coverage and other exposure within a state, which gets docs and other folks talking and thinking about “sorry.” So, that’s valuable and it helps. Second, passage of an apology law usually makes docs more comfortable about disclosure – and they usually get even more comfortable once they figure out they didn’t need the law in the first place! I don’t think, however, that the law is impacting cases in any particular way. Any number of defense lawyers will tell you they are actually happy to introduce evidence from the disclosure process into their cases, whereas, most PI lawyers don’t want the stuff anyway near the courthouse.
So, I think it’s about awareness and comfort, and that’s what this study has apparently quantified. Good. Last count, there are 34 states that have apology laws on the books. I know for certain, one additional state – Pennsylvania – is currently considering apology legislation (HB 495).
Your thoughts and comments?
Doug Wojcieszak, Founder, Sorry Works!