Posted By Tara Worthley
Why Your Doctor’s “I’m Sorry” Isn’t Admissible in Court
Here’s a simple question. When someone says to you, “I’m sorry,” how do you take it? Does it sound like an expression of sympathy? A way of saying, “I feel badly for your misfortune”? Or does it sound like an admission of guilt? A way of saying, “I apologize for my mistake”? Perhaps, depending on the situation, the potential interpretations don’t even end there.
Welcome to the cloudy world of being human, where miscommunication between individuals happens all the time. In the medical profession, even though many doctors genuinely care for their patients and, often—such as in the case of, say, an E/R physician’s failure to save a trauma victim—they might want to express condolences to the patient’s family, doctors are not typically inclined to apologize following an unfortunate health outcome. Sometimes it’s an unwillingness to imply any lack of professionalism or weak command of their skill set. Or maybe they see it as a premature leap to judgment, when medical care is so often fraught with unknowns.
But, the fact is, many times doctors hold back an otherwise human instinct to say, “I’m sorry,” because they’re professionally guarding against what the patient and his or her family might perceive as an admission of guilt or incompetence. And, thus, these doctors are guarding against the fear that this simple phrase could be used against them in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Enter Indiana’s Apology Law
This state law is one among many apology laws across 36 states, written to protect doctors from the kind of dilemma in which they might find themselves when their expression of sorrow could potentially leave them vulnerable in a litigation process. In Indiana, specifically, the law clearly states:
Except as provided in section 5 [IC 34-43.5-1-5] of this chapter, a court may not admit into evidence a communication of sympathy that relates to causing or contributing to:
(1) a loss; (2) an injury; (3)pain; (4)suffering; (5)a death; or (6)damage to property.
So, what does this mean to you? In essence, it means an apology on the part of your doctor would carry virtually no weight in a court of law. Now, hopefully, you and those you love will never encounter a less-than-successful health outcome, after which you find yourself struggling with a doctor’s apology that later turns into a denial. But, should that happen, knowing about the Indiana Apology Law can, at least, spare you some anguish.
Being an informed patient—not just from a health standpoint, but also with regard to legal issues that surround the medical profession—can help you in your endeavor to achieve the best health outcomes and, if necessary, respond when events don’t go as planned. With that being said, for further assistance, please don’t ever hesitate to contact our offices at Langer & Langer.