Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.

Sorry Seems To Be the Most Litigation-Avoidant Word  | e-mail post

Most of us are taught at an early age to apologize, "say you're sorry" is a common directive from parents and teachers to children who have just committed a minor slight or (relatively) major harm against another.

Well, from the "everything I need to know I learned in kindgergarten" file, doctors and hospitals are finding that a simple apology goes a long way toward reducing their litigation and damage awards expense, especially if coupled with an upfront proposal of a reasonable financial settlement offer. [AP via Yahoo]
The hospitals in the University of Michigan Health System have been encouraging doctors since 2002 to apologize for mistakes. The system's annual attorney fees have since dropped from $3 million to $1 million, and malpractice lawsuits and notices of intent to sue have fallen from 262 filed in 2001 to about 130 per year, said Rick Boothman, a former trial attorney who launched the practice there.
Of course, saying "sorry," in cases of negligent error (and even in those unfortunate but inevitable cases where "shit happens") is often considered a no-no by attorneys, an apology being, in effect, an admission of fault that could later be turned against the doctor or hospital in litigation. It appears that such a narrowly legalistic view is another case of the law interfering with natural human behavior and creating additional problems for all involved, while conveniently generating increased legal fees.

Now, supporters of the Sorry Works program are working with the Illinois legislature to bring the policy of apology to Illinois hospitals. The legislative mandate of apology does trouble me, however. Just as a schoolyard apology delivered under a teacher's duress rarely has the same fence-mending power as a sincere apology, will patients be as responsive to apologies from doctors if they know it is a matter of policy? As the article points out, it is often the anger felt at the physician that induces people to sue, more than just the harm itself.

Previous Medical Malpractice Post: "Sorry I Cut Off the Wrong Arm; You Can Still Sign a Check, Right?"

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  |  | Monday, November 15, 2004
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