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What is Rhode Island’s ‘apology law’ (and does it work?)

On Behalf of | Dec 17, 2021 | Medical Malpractice

A medical malpractice lawsuit is often about a victim and their family getting adequate compensation for the pain, suffering, disability, lost wages and other damages they experienced. But while financial restitution is very important, it is not the only thing many plaintiffs are looking for. They may also want the doctor or other medical professional who harmed them to look them in the eye and say, “I’m sorry.”

Traditionally, the nature of a malpractice lawsuit discouraged negligent hospitals and doctors from apologizing to their victims. Admitting that you regretted how you treated a patient could have been used as evidence against you. To be safe, defendants rarely said anything to plaintiffs except through their attorneys.

To encourage honest apologies from physicians, many states, not including Rhode Island, passed so-called “apology laws.” These statutes protect statements of regret from being used as evidence in court.

Among other things, legislators believed that apology laws would lead to fewer medical malpractice lawsuits. Hearing an apology would satisfy many plaintiffs and lead them to drop their suits, lawmakers argued. So far, 38 states have enacted an apology law. Have they had their intended effect? A new study in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online suggests that they have not.

Regrets, but not true apologies

The study notes that though most states have some form of apology protection, only a handful have a “full apology” statute: one that protects statements of regret and disclosure of error. It’s one thing for your doctor to tell you they are sorry you were harmed. It’s another for the doctor to actually take responsibility for their actions and explain to you precisely what happened.

As the study notes, an inadequate apology often feels worse than no apology at all. Imagine you were the victim of medical malpractice, and your doctor says, “I’m sorry for what happened to you.” Would that make you feel better? Or would it sound like somebody who is not being fully honest or sincere with you?

Putting a stop to malpractice in Providence

Part of pursuing a medical malpractice suit is holding the responsible parties accountable. Besides getting compensation for your injuries, you can help stop the negligence from happening to other patients. That can feel like justice has been served, whether or not the defendant admits liability.