One of the common minor medical malpractice “tort reforms” that have been proposed in recent years is the “apology law.” That’s the law which permits doctors to apologize to patients for bad outcomes without having those apologies thrown back in their face at trial. (Reasonable, if relatively trivial.)Rhode Island is now looking at joining the 15 or so states that have enacted such apology laws, and over at the New York Personal Injury Law Blog and crossposted at Bizarro-Overlawyered, plaintiff’s attorney Eric Turkewitz endorses the bill, saying:
I’ve always believed, based on the manner in which calls come in to my office, that poor communication (bad bedside manner) is the primary reason patients call attorneys. They are angry, or confused, or both.
Now, the practical implication of that for doctors is clear: doctors should apologize. But he doesn’t seem to reflect on the implication of that for lawyers. If med-mal cases are brought based on anger over bad bedside manner rather than wrongdoing, then our med-mal system will punish bad bedside manner rather than wrongdoing.
In any case, Turkewitz mocks an insurance company which advises doctors who apologize — even if those apologies are protected — to apologize for the outcome but not to admit error, claiming that this sensible advice “encourages more of the same thing that has gotten docs into trouble in the past.” But Turkewitz doesn’t mention that even this extremely modest reform is too much for some trial lawyers. As quoted in the same article he cites:
Providence lawyer Steven Minicucci, who handles malpractice suits, said displays of compassion are rarely useful in building such cases. But an apology and an admission of error could be key evidence. He opposes the Rhode Island legislation.
“I like to call it the `I’m-sorry-I-killed-your-mother’” bill, Minicucci said. “If a doctor comes out and says something like that, he shouldn’t be able to immunize himself against statements like that by couching it in an apology.”
You’ve got to love that “rarely,” in “displays of compassion are rarely useful in building such cases.” Rarely, but hey, sometimes a trial lawyer can turn compassion against the doctor. And we wouldn’t want to stop that.
Speaking of apologizing (and updating an earlier story), I’m pretty sure that Mike Nifong’s apology to the Duke lacrosse players (“To the extent that I made judgments that ultimately proved to be incorrect, I apologize to the three students that were wrongly accused.”) is not going to cut it.