Medical Malpractice, Apologies, Litigation
The overwhelming consensus among medical malpractice lawyers, when it
comes to conflict resolution and mediation strategies, is to recommend
silence when their physician clients are sued for a medical errorespecially one leading to serious injury or death.
The approach is based on
a common but mistaken assumption held throughout the U.S. legal profession
that people have become so greedy and litigious that admitting
responsibility for any error simply sets the stage for a prolonged lawsuit
and a massive settlement.
The President of South Carolina's Trial Lawyers Association sums up this
conventional wisdom about medical apologies"I would never introduce a
doctor's apology in court. It is my job to make a doctor look bad in front
of a jury, and telling the jury the doctor apologized and tried to do the
right thing kills my case."1
But that conventional wisdom, according to Dr.
Lucian Leape (Harvard University), "has no basis in fact. There is to my
knowledge not a shred of evidence to support it. It is a myth."2
Medical errors are estimated to kill thousands of people each year - some
studies put the number between 44,000 and 98,000 (based on a 1999 report
from the Institute of Medicine). But doctors are not typically sued for
medical malpractice because they make a mistake, they are sued because
they shirk responsibility for the error, fail to apologize and/or refuse to
offer fair compensation to the patients and family to ease their pain and
According to David Patten, a medical malpractice attorney, "We never sue the
nice, contrite doctors. Their patients never call our offices. But the
doctors who are poor communicators, arrogant, and abandon their patients get
sued all the time. Their patients call our offices looking for answers."3
his testimony before the U.S. Senate (2006), Richard C. Boothman, Chief Risk
Officer for the University of Michigan, explained that "People go to lawyers
not because they want a million-dollar payout. People go to lawyers because
they want answers and they don't trust their caregivers to give them
answers. People go to lawyers because they don't get any information at
all."4 Unfortunately, the only recourse very angry patients and family
members have is to hire a medical malpractice attorney to get those answers.
Dr. Jerome Buckley, a retired CEO of COPIC Insurance, shares many of the
same concerns and, like so many other experts, has concluded that the
medical profession has made "a grave error when we listened to defense
attorneys who told us to abandon our patients after adverse events. This is
the chief reason we have a medical malpractice crisis."5 This risk management
strategy doctors have been encouraged to adopt to avoid law suitsdeny
any wrongdoing and defend every aspect of the medical procedures usedinevitably increases the likelihood of a long, divisive and very expensive
The traditional approach is simply failing, Doug Wojcieszak argues, because
people just get angry. Doug, the creator of SorryWorks.net, understands from
first-hand experience that "it's not greed that drives most people to file
medical malpractice lawsuits. It's anger. People get angry when they think
there's a cover-up."6
Doug sued the doctors and hospital responsible for the
accidental death of his brother, Jim. The hospital never acknowledged the
medical error, failed to provide an explanation for what happened, and
refused to offer any form of apology. Wojcieszak's started the Sorry Works
Coalition with a simple but crucially important objective in mindreduce malpractice lawsuits by telling patients the whole truth.
"Sorry Works! encourages doctors and their insurers to be honest when
mistakes happen, offer apologies, and provide compensation up-front to
patients and their attorneys. While the number of settlements increases and
more victims receive justice, this approach removes the anger that often
leads to lawsuits and it reduces settlement and defense costs. Overall, this
approach saves money for insurers and hospitals but the constitutional
rights of patients are not limited or restricted."7
These basic principles have evolved into a movement advocating
disclosure/early offer and helps
provide a solution to medical malpractice litigation that is increasingly
being viewed as adversarial, expensive, unpredictable, and inefficient.
Learn more about the full disclosure/early offer movement.
Or, return to
Perfect Medical Apologies from Medical Malpractice.
of the Coalition
2 Lucien Leape, Dr. (2006) The Physician Executive March/April issue.
3 David Patton is a Medical malpractice attorney and Sorry Works! board member. http://www.sorryworks.net/files/CoalitionPowerpointpresentation.ppt#261,8, Goals of the Coalition
4 Rita Marie Barsella (2007) "Sincere Apologies Are Priceless."
Monday July 2, 2007
7 Doug Wojcieszak (2006)--http://www.sorryworks.net/WhatIs.phtml