is doctors apology voluntary settlement enough after medical error

When someone makes a mistake, we expect that person to apologize. An apology does not suggest that the individual is off the hook for the damage he or she caused. Instead, an apology is designed to acknowledge that a mistake was made and to express regret for causing it.

When professionals make mistakes, an apology is often not enough to fix the error. However, some studies suggest that when doctors apologize after making medical mistakes, the injured patients are less likely to file medical malpractice lawsuits.

Few medical malpractice lawyers in Pittsburgh would suggest that apologies are wrong or inappropriate. However, an apology should never replace the financial compensation a patient may deserve after an injury.

To some degree, this concept addresses the reasoning behind lawsuits and financial settlements. Lawsuits exist partially to hold negligent parties liable. While an apology may be appreciated, especially when accompanied by the offer of a financial settlement, these are often not enough to fully compensate victims of medical malpractice for the harm they have suffered.

For example, if a brain bleed is misdiagnosed as a migraine, an individual may have a stroke, be unable to return to work and require around-the-clock care. The financial compensation in a lawsuit should address the individual’s loss of income, as well as the expenses associated with hiring a nurse to provide constant care.

At some hospitals, after doctors apologize for their mistakes, patients are contacted by lawyers who work with the insurance companies. The lawyers offer the patients settlements that are allegedly designed to compensate the patient for their losses. However, in most situations, the settlements that are offered are significantly less than what experienced lawyers could help individuals receive in court. In many situations, the settlements are not large enough to cover the medical expenses the individual will accrue because of the doctors’ mistakes.

Most medical malpractice lawyers would agree that it is appropriate for doctors to apologize after making mistakes. However, it is important for patients to understand that apologies should not be viewed as a replacement for medical malpractice lawsuits that could provide much-needed financial relief.

Source: NPR, “Law Professor: Medical Apology Programs Might Manipulate Patients,” Sacha Pfeiffer and Lynn Jolicoeur, May 1, 2012

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