Can a Doctor’s Apology Leave Them Liable in Litigation?

Imagine that a loved one of yours has just died even though doctors promised that they would do everything they could to save their life. After being told about your loved one’s fate, one of the doctors extends their sympathies by apologizing for your loss. If you’re like some people, then this gesture may leave you feeling both comforted and agitated. Here’s why.

It’s a common enough scene in hospitals across the nation but an apology from a doctor typically raises a question in the minds of many people: is the doctor apologizing out of sympathy or because they did something wrong? We ask this question because we know medical mistakes can happen anywhere and knowing the intent behind the apology might lead us toward or away from litigation later on.

So can a doctor’s apology leave them liable in litigation? Unfortunately, here in Connecticut the answer is no.

According to Section 52-184d of the Connecticut General Assembly, any apology or expression of sympathy made by a health care professional after an unanticipated medical outcome cannot be used as evidence of admission of liability in civil litigation. The justification behind using such laws is to open the lines of communication between doctors, patients and their families without fear of a medical malpractice lawsuit.

This does not mean, however, that a victim of a medical mistake or their family cannot file a medical malpractice claim. It simply means that other evidence must be submitted that supports the claims of medical malpractice and that a doctor’s apology is inadmissible as evidence in the civil case.

Source: The Connecticut General Assembly, “Conn Gen Stat Ann §52-184d,” Accessed Oct. 28, 2014

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