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Why “sorry” is still the hardest word for many doctors

An apology can help people feel better when they’ve been hurt or wronged in some way. That goes for medical mistakes, too. In fact, it’s been found that when doctors apologize for errors, particularly when they also provide a clear explanation of what happened, there’s less likelihood that they’ll be hit with a malpractice suit. 

Many doctors, however, have long been afraid to offer even the most generic apology for fear that it indicates guilt and invites a lawsuit. That’s why most states, including Florida, have enacted some type of “apology law” that limits the ability of patients and families to use that apology as evidence of wrongdoing. 

Florida’s “apology law”

Florida’s law states the following: “The portion of statements, writings, or benevolent gestures expressing sympathy or a general sense of benevolence relating to the pain, suffering, or death of a person…shall be inadmissible as evidence in a civil action. A statement of fault, however, which is part of, or in addition to, any of the above shall be admissible….”

That means if a doctor says something like, “I’m sorry I nicked that artery. I was distracted because my broker kept texting me,” that admission of being distracted could be used against them, even though the apology itself can’t. 

If they said something like, “I’m sorry that the surgery didn’t go as well as we’d hoped,” that statement alone couldn’t serve as evidence of malpractice. Of course, you can investigate, ask questions and get to the bottom of what happened.

You can get evidence of negligence even if you can’t use the doctor’s statements

Some states’ apology laws prevent any part of a medical provider’s apology from being used against them. Again, however, it doesn’t prevent someone from getting evidence from other sources.

Certainly, some errors are so egregious and/or so harmful that no apology will help. No matter how you’re feeling and how angry you may be at your or a loved one’s doctor, listen carefully to what they and others on the medical team say. It may help lead to information and evidence that can help build a strong medical malpractice case so you can seek justice and compensation. Getting sound legal guidance as early as possible is a wise move.