“I’m Sorry” Laws and Medical Malpractice

How a Physician’s Apology Impacts Your Maryland Medical Malpractice Case

If something goes wrong in a surgery and the surgeon apologizes, does that mean that he or she is admitting wrongdoing and accepting liability?

Not necessarily.

Maryland is on the 36 states that have enacted so-called “I’m Sorry” law that allows a physician to express his or her sympathies and regrets about the outcome of a medical procedure without it necessarily being used later in court as evidence of medical malpractice. However, these laws have important limitations that you should consider when you hear that apology.

“I’m Sorry” Could Be the First Sign of Malpractice

If a physician expresses his or her regrets after a surgical procedure has a bad outcome, pay careful attention to both the words and the underlying message you may be getting. That admission may be your first clue that something is amiss.

Doctors and hospitals are generally as avoidant as possible when it comes to admitting that a surgery was botched and the patient was harmed as a result. Many people walk away, for example, believing that a loved one who died on the operating table was just unlucky. After all, the patient probably even signed paperwork acknowledging potential risks, including death.

The survivors don’t realize that the surgeon may have left the room during a critical point because he or she was overseeing two operations at once (a common occurrence in some places), allowing the mistake to occur. Or maybe the anesthesiologist didn’t pay attention to the victim’s signs and used too much medication.

Consider the possibility that the surgeon is offering his or her apologies to garner your respect and sympathy so that you won’t look any deeper into the situation.

The Exact Words Used May Matter a Lot

You should also pay attention to exactly what words the physician used. When you meet with a surgeon after a surgery, you never know what you are going to hear, so make certain that you aren’t alone. The other person who is with you can end up being a valuable witness to exactly what was said during those moments. So consider bringing a family friend or someone who can stay calm even in the worst situation.

Also, recognize that Maryland’s apology law is not all-inclusive. It has some built-in limitations that you should know and listen for if you are ever unfortunate enough to be in that situation. A physician’s apology cannon be used against him or her as direct evidence of malpractice only when it is nonspecific.

In other words, if the surgeon tells you nothing more than, “I’m sorry this happened,” that isn’t considered an admission of liability and can’t be used as evidence in a malpractice suit. However, if the physician says, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake,” or anything that indicates that he or she should have tried a different procedure, made a wrong diagnosis or waited too long to act, that’s considered an apology with an admission of guilt.

That sort of statement absolutely can be used in court as evidence of malpractice. Before you think that no surgeon would make that kind of mistake, remember that surgeons are human — they get caught up in the heat of the moment and can forget even carefully composed speeches they intended in the face of grieving relatives.

If you’ve been injured due to medical malpractice, then contact the professional team at the Jakelitsch Law Group. Our experienced personal injury lawyers will be able to help you get you the best possible outcome in your case — and we don’t get paid unless we successfully recover damages for you.

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